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23andme DNA Kit Review

Updated on May 27, 2022
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23andme DNA Kit Review
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23andme can provide information about your ancestry and your genetic health risks. It’s named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes making up a normal human cell. 

23andme was founded in 2006 and started selling DNA test kits in 2007. The product became so famous it was named “Invention of the Year” by TIME Magazine in 2008.   

With 12 million users in its database, 23andme is the second-largest genetic testing company after AncestryDNA. (AncestryDNA has 20 million.)

Many DNA testing companies offer health reports, but 23andMe is one of those few with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals. Currently, it has over 50 FDA-approved genetic test reports. 

23andMe logo

23andMe - The best for Health and Diseases

23andMe offers the only health test that’s authorized by the FDA. For this reason alone, 23andMe should be your first choice when searching for a DNA test kit to check for health conditions.

It’s also the only company that offers BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variant testing for breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. 

Moreover, 23andme is among the few companies that can perform all three DNA tests (autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA). Many competitors only test for autosomal DNA.

In this 23andme review, let’s look at the features of the company’s DNA kits, its ancestry and health risk reports, and other things that differentiate 23andme from its competitors. 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

23andme and the FDA

Unlike many of its competitors, 23andMe has FDA approvals as a screener of genetic conditions and diseases. But the road to securing such permissions was a bumpy one. 

In 2010, the FDA required federal approval for genetic health tests before marketing. 

In late 2013, 23andMe stopped marketing DNA kits upon FDA’s order. This is because of concerns about the public health consequences of inaccurate test results. 

While undergoing FDA review, 23andme suspended the marketing of its test kits in the U.S. from 2013 to 2015. 

In late 2015, the company resumed marketing for carrier status and wellness tests but not genetic health risks.

In 2017, the FDA approved 23andme’s applications for ten genetic risk tests, including those for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The FDA clarified that it only approved genetic risk tests, not diagnostic tests.

In 2018, the FDA approved 23andme’s test for three specific BRCA mutations. These mutations indicate an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women, and breast and prostate cancer in men. 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

Packages and Pricing

23andme offers three DNA test packages:  

1. Ancestry+Traits

  • Over 80 reports
  • Provides information about ancestry and unique genetic traits (like hair color or food preferences)
  • Can build a family tree based on relationships
  • With optional DNA Relative finder feature to find and communicate with possible relatives
  • Costs $99

2. Health+Ancestry

  • Over 150 reports
  • Has every feature of Ancestry+Traits service
  • Can tell whether the person has the potential to develop medical conditions (like celiac disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes)
  • Can tell if the person is a carrier of inherited medical conditions (like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia)
  • Can build a family tree based on inherited conditions
  • Costs $199

3. VIP Health+Ancestry

  • Over 170 reports
  • Personalized services and two Health+Ancestry kits
  • Quicker processing and faster results
  • One year of access to premium customer support
  • A 30-minute call with an expert
  • Costs $228 (Discounted price at $196)

The Genetic Testing Process

You can order your kit online. Get the Ancestry+Traits kit if you want just the ancestry service. Choose Health+Ancestry or VIP Health+Ancestry if you also want the health reports. 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

The DNA kit contains: 

  • DNA saliva collection kit with stabilizing liquid lid attached
  • Instructions
  • Lid for collection tube
  • Collection bag
  • Return shipping box and label

Once you received your kit: 

  1. Register your kit. If you already have an account with 23andMe, you should be able to enter your 14 digit activation code reasonably quickly. If you don’t have an account, you can easily create one and add the activation code.
  2. Do not eat or drink for 30 minutes.
  3. Spit into the collection tube until it reaches the fill line to complete the saliva sample. This line is deceiving; the collection tube has a false bottom. It requires less liquid than it looks.
  4. Close the funnel lid. This will break the seal and allow the stabilizing liquid to mix with your spit.
  5. Take the funnel lid off, and screw on the cap. Shake for at least 5 seconds.
  6. Put it in the collection bag and seal it.
  7. Finally, put it in the return box and put it in the mailbox.

After the lab receives your sample, technicians will extract your DNA from the saliva, amplify, and analyze it. 

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23andme performs three DNA tests: 

  • Autosomal DNA: Focuses on autosomal DNA. It’s primarily for studying ancestry and establishing family connections.
  • mtDNA: Focuses on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that is passed on from a mother to her children. This is used to trace maternal lines.
  • Y-DNA: Only applies to men. It focuses on Y chromosomes (Y-DNA) which are only found in men and passed on from father to son. This is used to trace paternal lines.

23andme will look for DNA segments or genetic variants associated with your ancestry and health conditions. The information will be compiled into various reports and sent to you. 

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My 23andme Results

The information you’ll get from 23andme are classified into two: 

  • Ancestry
  • Health & Traits

Ancestry

23andme uses your data to look for insights into your genetic genealogy and family history. These pieces of information are compiled into various ancestry reports:

  • Ancestry Composition
  • Maternal Haplogroup
  • Paternal Haplogroup
  • Neanderthal Ancestry
  • DNA Relatives

Ancestry Composition

The ancestry composition report provides an estimate of your ancestry breakdown. 

Having the second-largest DNA database, 23andMe has one of the most detailed ancestry breakdowns.

23andme compares your DNA to the DNA of reference populations around the world. This is to uncover clues about where your ancestors may have lived or migrated. 

Here’s my ancestry composition report. I can access this information through “Ancestry” > “Ancestry Composition.” 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

It says my ancestral origins are 100% European. I can even drill down further into the subregions for more details. 

For example, my result showed 50.1% French and German ancestry. If I click that region, I can see it’s more specific to South Holland, Netherlands. 

Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups

A woman passes her mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) to all her children. A man passes his Y-DNA (Y chromosomes) to his sons. 

Over multiple generations, people will share similar mtDNA or Y-DNA. This is the basis of haplogroups

If people have the same mtDNA or maternal haplogroup, they come from the same female ancestor. This also applies to people with the same Y-DNA or paternal haplogroups who descended from the same male ancestor. 

23andMe can test for mtDNA to give you your maternal haplogroups. If you’re born male, it can also test for y-DNA for your paternal haplogroup. 

Here’s my maternal haplogroup. I can access it from the “Ancestry” > “Ancestry Overview” > “Maternal Haplogroup - View Your Report.” 

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Here’s my paternal haplogroup. I can access it from the “Ancestry” > “Ancestry Overview” > “Paternal Haplogroup - View Your Report.”

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These two reports separately tell the stories of the origins and migrations of my maternal and paternal lines. 

They even include historical tidbits, like my maternal haplogroup being common in several European royal houses. Pretty interesting, I should say. 

Neanderthal Ancestry

In this report, you’ll find information about how much Neanderthal DNA you have and how you compare to most other people who have taken the test. 

For example, I have more Neanderthal DNA than 32% of 23andMe customers. I also have less than 2% Neanderthal DNA. 

I can access this information through “Ancestry” > “Ancestry Overview” > “Neanderthal Ancestry - View Your Report.”

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were prehistoric humans who interbred with modern humans (Homo sapiens) before they disappeared 40,000 years ago. 

Though Neanderthals were like modern humans in many ways, there are some differences, like them having bigger brains and muscles. 

Most people have an average of 2.5% Neanderthal DNA. People with a higher Neanderthal DNA percentage may be hairier, more brutish, or shorter.

Why is studying Neanderthal DNA important? 

Personally, not much. But studying Neanderthal DNA is vital in completing the evolution story of modern humans. 

Homo sapiens flourished while Homo neanderthalensis died after thriving for hundreds of thousands of years. Why this happened is an evolutionary mystery for biologists. 

Scientists have learned about evolution over millions of years by comparing the DNA of humans and monkeys. In the same way, they hope to know our evolutionary changes over the last 30,000 years by comparing Neanderthal and modern human DNA. 

DNA Relative Finder

23andMe will look for DNA matches amongst its other members, but only if you opt-in. 

If you decide to use this feature called “DNA Relatives,” you can receive email alerts about possible connections and their relationship to you.

You can turn on open sharing to make certain details (such as your full name) accessible for other members. Other users will need to send you an exchange request if you leave this off.

You must have a display name. However, anonymous participation is no longer accessible, though initials are allowed.

23andMe logo

23andMe - The best for Health and Diseases

23andMe offers the only health test that’s authorized by the FDA. For this reason alone, 23andMe should be your first choice when searching for a DNA test kit to check for health conditions.

You can add them as a connection and send messages if you want. 23andMe has the second-largest database (behind AncestryDNA), now estimated at 12 million.

You can see your possible relatives or family connections under “Ancestry” > “DNA Relatives.” Or you can directly go to the “Family & Friends” tab.  

You can choose to view the connections as a list, family tree, or map.

Health & Traits

What makes 23andMe famous is the health reports. You’ll find these reports relating to your health under the “Health & Traits” section. 

This section includes: 

  • Health Predisposition
  • Carrier Status
  • Wellness
  • Traits
  • Health Action Plan

23andMe had to apply for FDA approval to provide these pieces of health information. Specific tests are not shown without the user taking a tutorial.

Historically, trained doctors received and interpreted these results. Variant detection can shock consumers, like BRCA1/BRCA2 (genes that may show an increased risk of prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer).

Still, 23andMe emphasized that the test results weren't a diagnosis or a guarantee that you wouldn't be diagnosed with a disease later on. It’s best to share and confirm your results with your doctor before taking action.

Health Predisposition

The health predisposition reports are the ones that could have a bearing on your health later in life. 

Here’s a snapshot of my health predisposition page. I can access it through “Health & Traits” > “Health Predisposition.” 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

There are 14 genetic health risk reports. You can click on each condition to learn more about it and what predisposes you to it. 

Here’s what I see when I click on my age-related macular degeneration report.

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

Note that having a genetic variant does not mean you will develop the condition. Similarly, you could still develop the condition even if 23andme didn’t detect a variant. 

These reports do not actually diagnose the health conditions. They do not replace visits to the doctor. 

Carrier Status

Carrier status reflects genetic variants that may not affect your health but could be passed on to your children. 23andMe tests for 45 carrier status. 

Here’s a snapshot of my carrier status page. I can access it through “Health & Traits” > “Carrier Status.” 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

Wellness

The wellness reports include exciting items about your lifestyle, like diet, exercise, and sleep.

Many of these results may not surprise you. Still, it’s interesting to know the genetic foundations. 

Here’s a snapshot of my wellness page. I can access it through “Health & Traits” > “Wellness.” 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

There are eight wellness reports. If you click one report, you’ll find more details about that wellness aspect.

Traits

The trait reports provide insights into your unique features and characteristics, such as hair color or food preferences. 

This is undoubtedly the most fun report, in my opinion. These reports tell you if you are likely to go bald, if you smell asparagus, your wake-up time, and tons of other interesting information.

It’s another largely novelty feature, but it is interesting to explore which strange traits might be genetic.

Here’s a snapshot of my trait reports. I can access them through “Health & Traits” > “Traits.” The page has 32 trait reports. 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

Download Raw Data

Another considerable advantage provided by 23andMe is the ability to download the raw genetic data from your test. You can do this by going to “Settings” > “23andme Data - View” > “Download Raw Data.” 

The raw data contains the notated mutations that underlie the reports and predictions. This will be an uninteresting and overwhelming jumble of letters and numbers for many people.

However, if you’re one of those people that want to jump down the rabbit hole of personalized health, the information contained in the raw data will be priceless.

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23andMe provides all the materials for exploring the science and discussion surrounding specific mutations.

While some companies only use proprietary indicators for the variants they test, 23andMe delivers in the format of rsID number. 

In other words, these are universal identifiers that can be cross-referenced against research studies and comprehensive databases. In particular, SNPedia is a continually growing resource that links scientific findings to their respective rsIDs.

The pages are updated to reflect the latest results and correlations as new research is completed.

What can you do with raw data? 

This universal application allows for frank discussions with genetic counselors or medical professionals. 

Similarly, raw data allows for comparing and sharing genetic data without requiring brand-specific notation or tools.

This freedom has also given birth to brand new forums and communities on the Internet. As a result, many go online to fill gaps in their knowledge, ask for guidance, and share their particular findings.

This informative feature ensures that you will always have access to your genetic data. This is regardless of the state of 23andMe in the near or distant future.

Even more, with the constant flow of new information surrounding genetic research, you will always have the key to understanding the implications and relevance of new findings.

Research

23andme collaborates with pharmaceutical companies to bring opportunities for people to take part in clinical trials. You can choose to answer online survey questions, particularly for diseases that matter to you. 

If you allow 23andMe to share your DNA data for research, researchers will use the information to develop future treatments. In the past, 23andMe has worked with multiple pharmaceutical companies to create new medications for diseases like psoriasis. 

Privacy

Your data is relatively secure with 23andMe.

According to 23andme’s privacy page:

  • You can download your raw data, delete your account, or have the company discard your DNA sample.
  • Your data won’t be provided to insurance companies or employers. 
  • Your personal information won’t be released to law enforcement without your explicit consent unless required by law. 
  • Under the DNA Relatives tool, you can control the level of information that you can share with close and distant relatives. 
  • If you choose to take part in research, the researchers can’t connect your name and DNA data. Your data will be de-identified and aggregated before being analyzed by researchers. 

Recently, 23andMe made the honor roll for privacy and security. 23andMe complies with GDPR as of 2018. This means the company is held to a high standard for privacy in Europe.

In the U.S., 23andMe does not need to abide by standard privacy policies like HIPAA since it’s not a medical provider. Still, it must follow states’ laws regarding privacy and disclosing information. 

23andme also received certifications under the globally recognized standards like ISO/IEC 27001:2013, 27018, and 27701

If you are particularly worried about your privacy, you can use a pseudonym during registration, so the company doesn’t know who is taking the test.

23andMe has stated that they have received requests from law enforcement five times. They denied these requests and did not give the requested data to law enforcement. 

23andme vs. Competitors

23andme vs. AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA is best known for its ancestry tools, particularly the ability to build a tree and expand it with AncestryDNA’s collection of public records. 

Unfortunately, it only offers autosomal DNA testing; it can’t look at your paternal and maternal lines. This is where 23andme has one advantage over AncestryDNA.

23andme remains the top choice for genetic health testing. AncestryDNA used to offer AncestryHealth, but AncestryDNA discontinued the service.

23andme vs. Living DNA

Both 23andme and Living DNA have the three tests (autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA) integrated into their ancestry test kits. 23andMe can do more in terms of health screening. 

23andme vs. MyHeritage

MyHeritage only offers the autosomal test. 23andme has autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA tests. 

Compared to 23andme’s 12 million users, MyHeritage has a smaller database of 5.5 million. It also needs to catch on to 23andme in genetic health screening. 

But MyHeritage trumps 23andme in genealogical records. It also has a better family tree builder and is ideal for users in Western and Eastern Europe or those of Jewish ancestry. 

23andme vs. FamilyTreeDNA

Both 23andme and FamilyTreeDNA offer autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA testing.

But FamilyTreeDNA has the largest Y-DNA and mtDNA databases in the world. It can also trace down Native American and Jewish origins more efficiently. 

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Accuracy

In terms of ancestry composition, 23andme’s algorithms make ethnicity estimates based on probabilities, and they’re generally very accurate. 

But results are not set in stone. The company says they’re always trying to improve and refine these estimates. 

You can adjust the accuracy of the information. 23andme included five levels of “confidence” or scientific certainty

  • 50% (default)
  • 60%
  • 70%
  • 80%
  • 90% (most conservative)

Similarly, confidence levels are also reported for ancestor locations: 

  • “not detected” (less than 30% confident)
  • “possible” (30 to 49.9% confident)
  • “likely” (50 to 79.9% confident
  • “highly likely” (at least 80% confident) 

This is as useful as you want it to be. The ancestry test was interesting but certainly not life-changing for someone like me.

Someone who was adopted and didn’t know their parents might attribute different levels of usefulness to the information—it’s subjective.

The usefulness of the health info is a different situation. 

Health predisposition and carrier status reports meet FDA's analytical and clinical validity requirements. 

Still, there are limitations specific to each report. 

For example, thousands of variants can be associated with a specific health condition. But the report may only look at a subset of those variants. 

In 2018, 23andme got FDA approval for a test for three BRCA mutations. This can screen breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer risks. 

However, these are not the most common BRCA mutations in the general population. Moreover, the test is only for three of the approximately 1,000 known mutations.

23andMe said the genetic health reports are informational, and research-related. These reports are not meant to provide medical advice and do not replace diagnostic tests.

If you have carrier status or genetic health risk, it’s better to discuss these things with a licensed doctor or genetic counselor. 

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Summary

23andMe represents the best value for your money. Along with a plethora of health guidance, genetic screening, and novelty tidbits, a 23andMe DNA test is an excellent starting point for genetic testing.

Multiple companies out there offer DNA testing services. What makes 23andMe stand out from its competitors is its extensive health reports that you can get in addition to ancestry information. 

23andme’s ancestry results are comparable to that of AncestryDNA. You can access the Health & Traits for a bit more, which is probably the more exciting feature. 

23andMe logo

23andMe - The best for Health and Diseases

23andMe offers the only health test that’s authorized by the FDA. For this reason alone, 23andMe should be your first choice when searching for a DNA test kit to check for health conditions.

Even more, 23andMe also doesn’t push a pricey monthly fee on you to access other parts of the service.

23andme’s site is also easy to use. I found the entire process a great deal of fun. 

But if you want to incorporate your results with a family tree, you'll need to look to AncestryDNA, or export your DNA account and use another genealogy support.

Pros

  • Over 50 FDA-approved reports for genetic health risks and carrier status
  • Strong privacy protection
  • Ability to download raw DNA data
  • Nothing is hidden behind a paywall

Cons

  • Health-related info isn’t always actionable
  • Genetic health risk and carrier status reports only look for select variants

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Joel
Joel
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer that loves exploring DNA, at-home health, and optimizing my health. He believes that the democratization of home health is in its early stages.
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