In This Article
In This Article
About 3% of your DNA is made up of genes that you inherit from parents. Inside these genes are instructions that tell your body how it should make proteins.
Your genes determine your traits. Certain genetic variants are associated with specific traits, such as eye color and blood pressure.
Genetic tests can tell you which variants you have, but they can do so much more. So we asked the help of Dr. Rizza Mira to talk more about their benefits and drawbacks.
Dr. Mira explains that clinical genetic testing done by health care providers is different from direct-to-consumer (DTC) tests:
“Many at-home DNA tests provide information on ancestry and traits. Some offer insights on inherited health conditions.”
Genetic tests can analyze your genes to see which variants you have. They can reveal a lot about your appearance, behavior, and health.
Here are the benefits of DNA testing:
Sometimes, gene variants can undergo changes. These changes can increase your risk for a certain disease or cause health problems and genetic disorders.
Genes can also directly affect your health. They can influence your appetite and how you metabolize fats or absorb nutrients, among other things.
“At-home genetic testing tends to focus on the prevention of diseases. Clinical DNA tests are often used to diagnose illness,” says Dr. Mira.
Knowing your risks can help you take on a more proactive approach towards your health. For example, you can adjust your diet and lifestyle habits.
Making smarter health decisions can lower your risk for disease and prevent an existing health problem from getting worse.
If you’re unsure about what to do with your DNA results, you can talk to a genetic counselor. Genetic counseling can help you understand which particular disease you’re most at risk for, and which genetic disorder you may have.
More importantly, they can tell you what to do about them. They can help you explore your options, get early treatment, and give professional advice on disease prevention.
DNA tests can identify genetic mutations that you may have and pass on to your children. You can take your results to genetic counselors and make informed choices.
If you’re considering a sperm donor, an egg donor, or a surrogate, DNA testing can help you choose the best candidates for producing healthy offspring.
Dr. Mira says that “bad genes” shouldn’t stop you from having children, however.
“Being at risk for these conditions does not mean that these conditions will truly develop,” she explains.
You may already know some of your traits. But genetic testing companies can dig deeper into your DNA and offer insights on traits you didn’t know you have.
Genetic tests can also help you understand where you inherited your traits. They can tell you which regions and groups of people you share DNA with.
DNA testing can help you find out where you’re from. By comparing your genes with people from around the world, it can help you explore your ancestry and ethnic origins.
Your results will include regions and ethnicities which you share most of your DNA with. This suggests you have common ancestors.
Some people use DNA tests to find lost family members and distant relatives. DNA testing companies also let you get in touch with them.
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Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone should take a DNA test. Here are the cons of genetic testing:
Learning that you have a higher risk for health problems can be stressful.
Even if you know you have a family history of a disease, seeing it on your DNA results can be a nerve-wracking experience.
If you have anxiety and other mental health issues, or if you’re currently under a lot of stress, you should avoid DNA testing. Wait until you have an adequate support system to help you deal with the results.
“Genetic testing results should be interpreted with the help of medical geneticist to avoid unneccessary and false conclusions,” says Dr. Mira.
DNA testing companies can keep your samples, information, and results after completing DNA analysis. This can put your data at risk.
Always read a company’s privacy policies before buying a testing. Make sure they won’t share your data to third parties like health insurance companies without consent.
Of course, you can trust some companies more than others. Here’s a complete guide on the most private DNA tests and what you can do to keep your data safe.
Keep in mind that your DNA test results won’t just affect you. What you can learn from it may also affect people in your family.
News of genetic disorders and health risks can distraught your family.
You might find lost relatives that your family doesn’t want to talk about, or relatives that you didn’t know existed. Bringing this up can affect your relationship with them.
DNA companies can connect you to genetic matches or people with similar DNA. But they leave it up to members to decide if they want to be found or contacted.
This can limit your results to people who agreed to the DNA matching services. Even if you do find a match, they can stop contact before you can confirm a match.
Whichever the case, it’s important that you respect the privacy of your matches.
The accuracy of genetic tests depends on several factors. These include the size of a company’s DNA database and the populations they compare your results with.
Accuracy can also ary for each person. For example, someone with European ancestry may get more accurate results from a company with reference groups from Europe.
But a person of Asian descent can’t expect the same accuracy from a company with very few members from Asia.
“The accuracy of these tests will also depend on the type of DNA testing done. You can consult your medical practitioner for the test that suits your purpose best,” says Dr. Mira.
Genetic testing can be done at home or professionally in a medical setting. Here are the key differences between them:
At-home DNA tests, also known as direct-to-consumer or DTC kits, usually require a cheek swab. They’ll ask you to send a sample back for analysis.
Here are the pros of genetic testing when you do it at home:
A DTC genetic test kit may have limitations when it comes to accuracy.
For example, if you're concerned about developing cystic fibrosis, this test can only look into some (but not all) genetic markers that have been linked to it. A negative result doesn’t mean you’re not at risk.
Many DTC kits can provide you a raw DNA file. This includes a comprehensive list of genetic variants that you tested positive for.
Unfortunately, they can be hard to interpret without a genetic counselor. They also need to be verified with clinical DNA tests before they can be trusted for medical decisions.
“Because at-home genetic tests are customer-centered, they are mainly used to prevent diseases from progressing. A medical practitioner is the best person to help you achieve this goal,” explains Dr. Mira.
“Doctors use medical DNA tests to diagnose and treat illnesses,” says Dr. Mira.
The test is performed by a healthcare professional. In most cases, they will take your saliva sample or draw blood for DNA analysis.
A clinical DNA test looks for specific markers based on your medical background and family history. It’s expensive but there’s no need to repeat the test for accuracy.
You should consider genetic testing in these situations:
DNA testing can be an effective planning tool, but it can also be a Pandora's Box. It can open doors to things you may not be prepared to face yet.
Understanding the benefits and disadvantages of genetic testing is the best way to decide if it is right for you.
The results may not be what you want you want to learn. But there’s still power in knowing. It may give you the motivation to better take care of your health.
Before making a decision, you may talk to a certified genetic counselor. They’ll explain the process and the considerations you need to take.
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