Home DNA tests come in all shapes and sizes, but those in the health sphere normally analyse your genome to see how susceptible you are to certain diseases to give you an indication of your future health.
Direct to consumer (DTC) testing has snowballed in popularity over the last few years, especially DNA health testing which reveal a person’s genetic predisposition to certain health conditions and disease. In early 2018, the DTC genomic testing market reported 10 million tested consumers, which is estimated to continue to grow significantly to 100 million consumers by 2021.
DTC genetic testing is easy to purchase online, the test is sent to you by mail and the DNA can be collected at home and then sent back – it’s a quick process and before you know it you receive the results of your DNA profile.
So, how could this information help to empower you, and when should you consider taking the test?
In the new world we live in with easy access and affordability of numerous health and disease monitors, including genomic testing, it seems like a simple decision to order an online DNA health test. What could be more intriguing than foreseeing the future, understanding your body better and protecting yourself from the looming ailments that are soon to come?
But it isn’t that straightforward. The interpretation and understandability of DNA testing has some way to go, and even an experienced physician may struggle to keep up with the results of the sophisticated technology that is able to identify small differences in your DNA which might be associated with certain disorders.
And what will you do with the outcome? Especially if the observations may suggest an inclination to a disease which has no cure or an increased likelihood of the big “C” or heart disease. The effects to your mental health in receiving such results should really be given wider consideration, notably in conditions such as anxiety and depression which are likely to be impacted if your results show negative associations.
One of the most popular brands on the UK market, 23&me, has FDA approval for its testing and has evidence to support the results it provides to the consumer which include the BRCA1&2 genes linked to breast cancer, coeliac disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. However, as with many of the testing companies, their websites are heavily caveated, explaining that lifestyle, environment and genetic factors also have a role to play in your risk of disease. This begs the question, are these tests in isolation worthwhile, or should they only be used if you have specific concerns in respect of a condition potentially due to a family history of the disease? And if this is the case, is DTC genomic testing really the right answer, or should you seek advice from a registered practitioner who will be able to counsel you properly should any susceptibilities to disease be identified?
Some companies on the market such as Nordic Laboratories will only work directly with health practitioners, and the health practitioners must attend a course aimed at interpreting the results of the test before they can register with the company. Nordic Laboratories’ DNALife offering tests genes connected to mind, skin and sport health, as well as others and can be helpful if you are already working with a health practitioner and are willing to tailor your lifestyle and diet in accordance to the results of the test. Although there are still questions in relation to the validity of the test data, this is a better approach to such testing as there are actionable takeaways and the results can be explained, rather than false assurances or unnecessary frenzy that can occur upon receiving the results from a DTC genomic test.
In times where data is king, the DTC genomic testing market is set to boom even further, but before you press enter on the test application form, remember to consider your reason for needing the test. If it is serious then going to see your GP might be a better option and if it’s not, then eating a healthy balanced diet, doing more of the things you love in life and getting more exercise, might be a better fix than a genomic test.