Do you want to know what you can learn from your 23andMe data? Strange things, cool things, and health-related information… Your genetic data contains all of this information!
Questions about 23andMe raw data:
Let’s dive into some great questions about the 23andMe genetics kits. Hopefully, you will find the answer you have been looking for.
1. Which 23andMe kit should I buy? Do I need the ancestry option ($99) or the health option ($199)?
You get access to the 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 the FDA limits them on what they can say.
*Much of what 23andMe covers in their reports is available on this website. The exception is that I don’t cover a lot of the traits. I figure that you know whether you have curly hair or are likely to get itchy from mosquito bites.
So the answer to the question of which one to buy… It is up to you (and your budget!).
2. 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 people ask me 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 about the authorities using genetic data to crack cold cases don’t involve the 23andMe database. The police are using GEDMatch, a huge online community for genealogy buffs. Everyone on GEDmatch has freely uploaded and shared their genomes and 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, read through the Terms & Conditions and check the appropriate boxes for your data not to be used.
- 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.
Make sure you delete your data!
23andMe also gives you the option of deleting your data. You can download your raw data file and delete your account and data from the website.
Finally, to answer the question about cloning… No one wants to clone you. You’ve been watching too many Orphan Black episodes.
2. Can my 23andMe data tell me what to eat?
Genetic Lifehacks focuses on optimizing diet and health based on your genetic data. You can learn a lot about specific genetic variants that impact how you digest or utilize different foods.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think there is an exact, best diet based on your genes.
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, and add more of the good.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
- Some people don’t convert the omega-3’s found in plants into the brain-healthy DHA and EPA very well. They can chew on flaxseed all day and not get the benefit! If you carry these genetic variants, you should periodically eat fish or take a DHA/EPA supplement.
- 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 rely on your gut microbiome to break down lactose. A big bowl of ice cream may overwhelm those microbes, leaving you with disastrous results. Instead, cut down on the dairy and perhaps try a lactobacillus probiotic.
3. What diseases does 23andMe test for?
The disease question is common. The 23andMe health reports (the $199 option) cover some rare genetic diseases and give reports on genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Some serious diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, 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, but your risk increases when you combine with the right (or wrong) environmental factors.
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 determine 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 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.
To look further, some people carry genetic mutations in a melatonin receptor gene that 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.
Leverage your data… find out where your susceptibility lies.
4. Is it even worth it if I can’t learn absolutely everything from my 23andMe data?
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.
5. 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 that matches your data to all of the articles on this website.
Need a little more hand-holding? I can also write up a Top 5 Topics guide just for you, based on your genetic data.
Join as a member and save time by viewing Your genotypes in all the articles.
Jump in. Learn something new. You don’t have to know or understand everything about genetics to be able to apply cutting-edge research.
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.