If you are interested in learning about genetics and how they can affect you, a DNA test kit can be found on hundreds of websites around the internet. However, not all DNA tests are created equally. With so many offerings, things can get complicated quickly.
Many DNA tests offer insights into your genetic ancestry, certain health risks you may be exposed to because of your genes, traits influenced by genetic variants, and a whole slew of other interesting tidbits related to your genes. With so many options, how are you supposed to choose an honest, reliable testing company? Which is the absolute best kit?
Several Tips on Selecting a DNA Test
- Avoid the Gimmicks
The single worst type of DNA test is the one that is not backed by multiple, peer-reviewed scientific papers. Many tests are offered now that are backed by a single correlation study. In non-science terms, one team of scientists found a relationship between a trait (or outcome) and a genetic variant. This is the equivalent of seeing a dog, sneezing, and assuming you are allergic to dogs.For example, genetic tests claiming to discern your taste for wine based on your genetic variants are a pure gimmick. Things like taste, preference, intelligence, athletic ability, and others are formed more through your exposure and environment, not your genetic predisposition.
- Avoid Tests That Make Promises
Lose weight using our genetic test! Optimize your diet and training routine based on our genetic test! You’ve heard the claims. While some genetic tests do offer actionable advice on your health or wellbeing, any serious test will have you consult a doctor to discuss your actual results. Genetic testing is still in its infant stage. We have found correlations between genes and many different traits, but no one understands the actual causation behind these studies.For instance, there are many increased health risks that have been related to various genes. However, no one has asked the question of how these genes actually increase your risk. It begs the question: was the gene causing the increased risk, or was it simply present in the population with the highest risk? Until we have the answer to that question, all results should be taken with a grain of salt.
- See What the Science Actually Says
The scientists at most genetic testing facilities know that their results are questionable, at best. However, the marketing team never got the memo. Unfortunately, this means that every test looks like it is 100% supported by science. Marketers try to sell tests as “revolutionary”, “life-changing”, and other nonsensical sales terms. When in doubt, look up the research yourself. Any good test will have many scientific papers backing up its conclusions, plus an explanation of how the genetic variant affects your body chemistry and processes.In general, ancestry tests are a safe bet. While some companies are better than others, an ancestry test is simply comparing your DNA to reference populations around the globe. This form of DNA analysis has been used for decades to track the movement of human populations over time. Carrier status tests are also good. These tests show you which genetic variants you carry which can cause genetic diseases. Unlike “health risk” tests, these genes are known for a fact to cause disease. Other tests, such as health and wellbeing tests, nutrigenomics tests, weight-loss tests, and most other genetic tests are total conjecture based solely on correlation studies.
- Avoid Hidden Fees!
This is a big one. Nothing will turn a fun genetic test into a nightmare faster than hidden fees. Companies offering cheap, or even free, genetic tests still need to make money. Many of them show you peak at your results, only to try to get you to subscribe to a service that will provide you updates. Others simply make off with your genetic data and sell it to pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, because DNA data is very valuable to these companies.There are two great examples of this. The first is ancestry tests. Many companies offer free ancestry analysis. Then, once you are on their platform they try to squeeze a dime out of you wherever they can. Maybe you’ll have to pay a subscription to see your full results, or to get information which is freely available elsewhere on the internet. The second example is nutrition-based DNA testing companies. With billions of chemical reactions happening in our body, the complexity of nutrition is more complicated than building a rocket to the moon. However, many of these companies just want you to buy their pre-packaged meals. After offering you a genetic test, they will then offer you “tailored” meal plans to match your genetic profile. Because they only analyze a handful of different genetic variants, this is essentially the same as a blind man trying to tailor your suit.
- Keep Your Genetic Data Ownership
This last tip is more important than most of the others. While your genetic data might be worthless to you, someone out there is willing to pay for it and genetic testing companies know that. Why should they be allowed to make money on your personal data?Many companies allow you to keep ownership of your genetic data. In fact, some of them actually allow you to make money yourself by selling your data to researchers directly. Plus, if you just give away your genetic material, it could be used against you in the future. Insurance companies may hold the information against you, or law enforcement agencies may use the data to prosecute you or a loved one. Keep it to yourself, if you can!