Hi, I’m Kamal. Me and my highbrow paleo friends love exploring personal health issues. When we get to talking, it turns into the intellectual equivalent of Muppet Babies–excitement and intrigue abounds, and everyone has a different perspective! A couple years ago, I got a 23andme gene test profile on sale for $99. Part of the reason was general curiosity, part of the reason was to see if I had genes for pain sensitivity. (Shameful plug–I run paindatabase.com, a website covering pain/nutrition/stuff). Turns out a few highbrowers also ordered this test, and more are considering ordering it. We so excited…we we we so excited. Blog post time!
What to expect
It’s super easy. You get a tube by mail, spit out virtually all of your spittle into this tube, then mail said tube away. You get results back in a little over a month. They analyze millions of SNPs to find things related to health. The most important results are “Carrier Status”. This tells you if you are a carrier for some crazy diseases, like Bloom Syndrome, which increases yours and potentially your child’s risk for lots of cancers and other bad stuff. The next most important results are for “Traits”. These tell you things like: do you have the gene for wet ear wax? Is your hair likely to be curly?
What to really expect
Okay, that was a joke. Well, not really, as these are actually reported right on the front page of 23andme. And true, many of these are not useful at all. But some are interesting. Like I have the “bitter taste sensitivity” gene, which makes sense because I don’t like coffee, brussell sprouts, and other bitter things. Hold on, that can’t be how you spell brussell. Looks like Brussell Crowe. Anywho, it’s hypothesized that tasting bitter strongly was an advantage to avoid poisonous plants. Also included in “Traits” is pain sensitivity–I didn’t have the gene, thank goodness, but that means that my rather complex pain issues are not easily explained. In addition, I don’t have the” alcohol flush” gene (makes sense as I’m Indian Asian not Asian Asian).
The next two categories may be important to you, especially if you have a disease or are doing some amateur genetic counseling for your not-yet-conceived children. Like metformin response is totally important if you’re a type 2 diabetic on metformin (although you should be doing paleo as an adjunct treatment at the very least!). I was interested in naltrexone response, since it may relate to pain. In fact, I printed out some pain-related responses to take share with my pain doctor. Guess what? He didn’t give a shit. One of the cooler drug responses is the caffeine metabolizing rate gene–might explain why you are or are not sensitive to a cup o’ joe. The category “disease risk” is a toss-up. The folks at 23andme triangulate your risk of certain diseases based on some gene studies. I asked the genetic epidemiology PhD at work, and he called shenanigans on almost all of this. Too many genes involved in most diseases to make these kind of conclusions. So don’t place too much emphasis on your 23andme risk of heart disease, but maybe pay attention to your Ankylosing Spondylitis risk (the former likely has many more factors than the latter).
The final category is ancestry. Some people will find this useful and others will find it useless. It told me that my ancestors were from India. Yes, I am aware of that. It also may help me locate my third to fourth cousin. They are both last-named “Patel” like me. Kinda cool, but only kinda. For those with more mixed ancestry though, this section might be very neat.
Should you buy this?
If you have some disposable cash, get it when it’s on sale. Don’t get it at the full price ($399 or so?). Also keep in mind that they might make you subscribe to updates to get a special price, which is an extra $5 a month for a year. Also also, keep in mind that updates are kind of cool, in that when new research comes out, they will send you updates about how your genes match up. How bout the usefulness of the results? That’s a mixed bag. Part of my day job in 2010 was helping compile a database of gene tests for the federal government. I can say for sure that the associations are more unpredictable than a single “You have a 13% greater risk of glaucoma!” would lead you to believe. Here is a good strategy: buy someone in your family a 23andme test for their birthday or Christmas…there’s a 50% chance they’ll buy you one back! That way, double the people get information about there genes, you can compare results, and you won’t feel quite as much buyer’s remorse if you aren’t impressed with the information you get. Peace out homies, and remember, don’t believe everything that you hear (unless you hear it on highbrow paleo).