Check your genes online

June 15, 2012

Most connected health apps and services rely on body metrics to provide a service to their users. But what if we could take it one step further? What if you could add to the mix an analysis of your genes and see how they are affecting your life now and will continue to do so in the future?

It’s now possible to have an answer to this question by your own initiative and for a reasonable fee. Companies such as 23andMe, deCODEme and Navigenics, to name a few, offer to provide a genetic test on a sample of your saliva and show you the result in an online dashboard.

Every provider have their own dashboard. Here is the dashboard from 23andMe.

What those companies perform is not a complete sequencing of your genome – with the current technology, complete sequencing remains a very long and expensive process. What they do is analyze only some segments of your DNA that are known to be related to medical conditions and provide you with the results.

Indeed, they make great efforts to make the information accessible. We found their dashboards overall very easy to read and user-friendly, with explanations provided for every condition listed. Beyond that, some of them will also offer you the possibility to keep a sample of your DNA and to update your dashboard as the years pass, as new medical discoveries bring more insight to the link between DNA and some medical conditions.

On the lighter side, most services will also provide you with information regarding your ancestry as well as tell you whether or not you have some other traits, such as your ability to taste bitterness in some food, your earwax type, how curly your hair is or if you have a particularly strong reaction to alcohol.

All the companies we mentioned offer access to a demo account so you can check which one you find the most informative and clear.

The benefit of course is not so much in the knowledge itself but in what you choose to do with it. An elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes may encourage you to monitor your diet more closely while indication that you are more likely than average to develop a certain kind of cancer may prompt you to undergo more frequent screenings.

If you are thinking of using such a genetic profiling service, you should be aware that it can have some drawbacks when applying for a health or life insurance contract. Insurers themselves usually do not require you to undergo a genetic test to identify your level of risk with regard to a particular condition. However, some contracts will require you to disclose any knowledge you may already have about such risks. If the result of your genetic test shows an increased risk of hypertension, for instance, you may be obliged to disclose it and have to pay higher insurance fees than if you had remained ignorant. It would be wise to get informed about your country’s regulations regarding what your insurer can ask of you and what they can’t before submitting to such a test.

What about you, would you undergo such a test to know more about yourself? Or would you rather not worry so much about what the future may hold?