In This Article
In This Article
DNA testing has many benefits. Primarily, it's a convenient and trustworthy way to understand your genetics, personal relationships, and any diseases you may be at risk for, which can help you make any necessary lifestyle changes to live your best.
However, DNA tests can also potentially cause more anxiety because of the process and even return inconclusive or concerning results that may be costly to follow up on.
DNA testing has several pros and cons, but we'd say that, overall, it's worth it if you have the budget and want to know more about yourself.
Your DNA gives you better insights into your genes. Inside these genes are instructions for your cells and the genetic variants that make you you.
Genetic tests can tell you which variants you have, but they can do so much more. So we asked the help of our in-house medical expert, 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,” she says.
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 some benefits of DNA testing:
Sometimes, gene variants can undergo changes. These changes can increase your risk for certain diseases 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 to curb any potential of developing diseases you may be genetically disposed to.
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 provide professional disease prevention advice.
DNA tests can identify genetic mutations that you may have and could potentially 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.
However, Dr. Mira says that “bad genes” shouldn’t stop you from having children.
“Being at risk for these conditions does not mean that these conditions will truly develop,” she explains.
Remember that DNA tests can only reveal potential diseases you may develop. There is currently no scientific way to verify with certainty if they will.
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 had.
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.
If learning more about yourself is important to you, DNA tests can tell you more about where those traits came from and who you share them with.
DNA testing can help you find out where you’re from in terms of lineage. 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.
If you're interested in diving deeper into your family tree and how your ancestors contributed to who you are today, DNA tests could be a great help.
Some people use DNA tests to find lost family members and distant relatives. Some DNA testing companies also let you get in touch with them via their databases of users who have also taken the same test.
However, not all users will want to publicize their DNA information or results, so this isn't always a guarantee.
Still, if you happen to find someone whose results overlap heavily with yours, it might be a cool new discovery and addition to your family tree.
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Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone should take a DNA test. Here are some 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 when it comes to a certain disease, seeing it on your DNA results or waiting for confirmation can be a nerve-wracking experience.
If you have anxiety and other mental health issues or are currently under a lot of stress, you might want to 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 geneticists to avoid jumping to 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 in several ways:
Always read a company’s privacy policies before buying a test. Make sure they won’t share your data with 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 and other close relationships.
News of genetic disorders and health risks can cause distress to you and your family. If your family wasn't aware of certain conditions in your lineage, they may not deal with the stress well.
You might also 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 and may cause negative feelings to stew.
Ensure you're careful with the information you share, are gentle with how you break sensitive news, and are mindful of what you divulge.
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 vary 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 best test that suits your purpose,” 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 with 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.
This kind of test is performed by a healthcare professional. They will usually 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.
Processing and results will be subject to the doctor or lab conducting the test, but it's usually preferred by people who trust a more controlled testing environment and professionals handling their samples.
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 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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