FAQs about using your 23andMe data

Wondering what you can learn from your 23andMe data? Weird things, cool stuff, and health-related important things…  all of this is in your genetic data!

Let’s get into some frequently asked questions about 23andMe genetics kits:

Which 23andMe kit should I buy? Do I need the ancestry option ($99) or the health option ($199)?

You actually get access to the exact same raw data file whether you buy the 23andMe ancestry only ($99) or the 23andMe health reports ($199) option.

The health reports on 23andMe cover some traits (restless sleep, hair, ear wax, etc), several genetic diseases, and they now also give you a prediction on diabetes susceptibility. They are coming out with new reports every few months, but they are limited by the FDA on what they can say.

A lot of what is now covered on the 23andMe reports is also available for free on this website (and has been for years!).

The exception is that I don’t cover a lot of the traits here. I figure that you know whether you have curly hair or are likely to get itchy from mosquito bites.

Full disclosure: While you can learn a lot on this website, the 23andMe reports are visually very pretty and quick to read. The articles on this website go into a lot more detail, and, well, let’s be honest here… they are not a quick read!

So the answer to the question of which one to buy… It is up to you (and your budget!).

Is 23andMe giving my genes to the government? Will they try to clone me? How can I protect my privacy?

Yes, these are actual questions that people ask me about when I talk about what I do! A lot of people seem worried about being cloned…

The question of how to protect your privacy and your genetic data is a good one.

First, all the headlines that you read about the authorities using genetic data to crack cold-cases don’t involve the 23andMe database. The police are using GEDMatch, which is a huge online community for genealogy buffs. Everyone on GEDmatch has freely uploaded and shared their genomes and their family tree info. After a recent change to the terms of service, the users have to opt-in to allow authorities to use the information. (Not sure what I’m talking about? Read about the Golden State Killer – it’s pretty interesting!)

23andMe does use your data for research studies — but only if you opt-in for the research studies. All of the ‘surveys’ on 23andMe are for research.

If you don’t want your data used for research, be sure to read through the T’s & C’s and check the appropriate boxes for your data not to be used.

23andMe also gives you the option of deleting your data. You can download your raw data file and then delete your account and data from the website.

The bigger issue with keeping your data private is uploading your genetic data file to other websites.  Always read the privacy policy! 

  • Look at which ‘partners’ they are sharing your data with.
  • Some places that offer free reports are using your data for research purposes. Make sure you understand where your data is shared.
  • Some places that offer paid reports will use your data to market supplements to you.

Just like your dad always told you – “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Companies offering free testing or free reports are making money somehow.

Finally, to answer the question on cloning… get over yourself! Seriously. No one wants to clone you. You’ve been watching too many Orphan Black episodes.

Can my 23andMe data tell me what to eat?

This website is all about optimizing diet and health, based on your genetic data. You can learn a lot about specific genetic variants that impact the way that you digest or utilize different foods.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t think there is an exact, best diet based on your genes. A lot of websites try to sell you that, but really…. Nah.

Instead, there are probably a few foods that you may need to avoid and others you should increase in your diet. Unique, personal, but flexible.

We humans are very resilient and can survive and thrive on a number of different ‘diets’.

The key here is optimization. Weed out the bad, add more of the good.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

  • Some people stink at converting the omega-3’s found in plants into the brain-healthy DHA and EPA. They can chew on flaxseed all day and not get the benefit! If you carry these genetic variants, you should eat fish or take a DHA/EPA supplement periodically.
  • Your genes control whether you produce lactase as an adult. (Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar, lactose.) If you don’t produce lactase, you are relying on your gut microbiome to break down lactose. A big bowl of ice cream may overwhelm those microbes, leaving you with disastrous results (you know what I mean!). Instead, cut down on the dairy, and perhaps try a lactobacillus probiotic.

What diseases does 23andMe test for?

This is also a commonly asked question. The 23andMe health reports (the $199 option) cover some rare genetic diseases as well as giving reports on genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

There are some serious diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, that are caused by mutations in a single gene. But most people already know that they have those types of genetic diseases…

But for most diseases — diabetes, heart disease, MS — it’s not as simple as a single genetic mutation dooming you to chronic illness.

“I’ve got the diabetes gene”…  nope, not that easy.

Most chronic diseases have multiple genetic variants that add a little to your risk. When combined with the right (or wrong) environmental factors, your risk increases.

You can use your genetic data to know whether you are at a higher risk for certain diseases.  Since most chronic diseases have multiple causes, you can use your data to find out how and why you are susceptible. Then you can tailor your diet and lifestyle to avoid getting those diseases.

Here’s an example…

Say that your dad and grandma both have the diabetes and you want to avoid getting it. Cutting out the donuts and soda is the obvious first step. After that, you can look at all of the different genes that influence the risk of diabetes.

Leverage your data… find out where your susceptibility lies.

For example, some people carry genetic mutations in a melatonin receptor gene significantly increases their risk of diabetes. But the catch is that it only increases the risk of diabetes if you eat dinner late in the evening. Simply eating dinner earlier eliminates the increase in diabetes risk.

If I can’t learn absolutely everything from my 23andMe data, is it even worth it?

Ok, that is not a frequently asked question, per se. But it is one that I would like to answer!

Nope, you won’t learn everything you want to know from your genetic data – whether from 23andMe or another source.  But you will learn a lot!

It is an excellent starting point for optimizing your health. 

Learning about your genes is a great motivation for making healthy choices. Nothing motivates you like knowing that you’re at a 2-fold risk of cancer if you don’t eat your green veggies.

 

I have my data… what now? where do I start?

There are tons of free articles on this website.  Check out the getting started page for ideas on what to look at first!

If you are overwhelmed and want some help, I offer an Ultimate Cheat Sheet which matches your data to all of the articles on this website.

Need a little more hand-holding? I also can write up a Top 5 Topics guide just for you, based on your genetic data.

Jump in. Learn something new. You don’t have to know and understand everything about genetics to be able to apply the cutting edge research.