So you got a 23andme test, now what?

23andMe is a saliva-based direct-to-consumer personal genome test. It’s a fun way to learn about your ancestry and genetic traits that explain why you are the way you are! What is a genome? A genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions. These instructions tell our body how to make proteins and molecules essential for growth, development and health.

Although the data 23andMe gives you is very interesting, you probably already knew that you have blue eyes or that your pee smells when you eat asparagus (you will find this out if you get the $199 test). Some interesting things you might not know is whether you have slow or fast twitch muscles. As a former marathon runner I guess I instinctively knew that I wasn’t really cut out for 26 miles and that all my running friends seemed to have greater success on the same running plan. It was nice to confirm that my muscles are more suited for sprinting! You can also find out if you metabolize caffeine fast or slow…don’t you hate those people that can drink coffee at 9pm and have no problem falling asleep! Or how about whether you are more likely to move in your sleep and even if you are more prone to be lactose intolerant!


There are 41 carrier status reports, which could be useful if you are planning on getting pregnant. From the website: “Carrier status tests detect genetic variants that can cause inherited conditions. These variants are often found primarily in certain ethnicities. Being a carrier means you have one variant for the condition. Carriers typically don’t have the condition but can pass the variant to their children”.


The ancestry section is pretty cool and gives you a good breakdown of your ancestry composition. If your mom and dad get the test too, you can merge your data to see how much of your ancestry composition came from each parent. I gave both of my parents the kit for Christmas and am looking forward to reviewing their results. Overall for $199 (sometimes on special for $149) it is a pretty interesting test, especially if you are a data nerd like me. If you want to just find out ancestry and still get the raw data file just pay $99!

Buy a 23andMe test here.


The Basics

DNA contains instructions for how your body works; it is made up of 23 chromosomes in pairs of two, one from each parent. It is made up of smaller units or building blocks (usually seen as A, T, C or G) when you combine these units into sequences they are called genes. One DNA sequence might tell your body how to make protein; these proteins might go on to build muscle fiber. In humans most of our DNA sequences are the same. It’s the 1-2% that makes us different. These differences are called variants or SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphism) and this is what a DNA test shows, the differences that affect our ancestry, traits and health.


Let’s talk about limitations

The information on 23andMe is put together in neat reports, but beyond the limited data they present to you on-line, you enter more of the unknown. In 2013 the FDA shut down 23andMe because they were giving too much health/medical information. In 2015 they came back and the data they now give is useful but limited. But…you can download your raw data file with thousands of results to many websites that will interpret your data for you (you get the raw data file with the $199 and $99 test). But here’s the thing, just because you have a specific abnormal trait does not automatically mean anything is wrong with you. It may mean that there is a greater likelihood that the enzyme that gene produces won’t function as well but it is not a given. I see people bringing their genetic SNP reports they got on-line to their doctor convinced that this is what is wrong with them. I also see practitioners supplementing based just on one SNP. Take our Methylation pathway for example, the MTHFR SNP has gotten a lot of press lately as approximately 40-60% of the population (I see differing statistics everywhere) has at least one gene that contains a polymorphism. Practitioners are loading their patients with folate and B vitamins to help the pathway, which will help some people but if you don’t look at the big picture and some of the other related genes and environmental factors you may be affected negatively. It’s a new science and I believe it’s the future, but it’s newish and we need to proceed with caution. Find someone with experience and a working knowledge of metabolic pathways in the body to work with before jumping to conclusions. Having said all that, it is really fun to run these reports (for data nerds and people who can handle it.) If you are prone to being a hypochondriac proceed with caution!


sample 23andme screen
Sample of my 23andme wellness report screen


How to read most reports you can run on-line:

There are two copies of each gene in your genetic profile, one copy from each parent. When both copies have a specific polymorphism it usually reads +/+ and is called homozygous (red in a lot of reports). If you have one copy from only one parent it will read +/- and is called heterozygous (yellow in a lot of reports). The + and the – specification refer to whether the gene has a change from what the report determines is the norm (and why occasionally reports/labs will vary depending on what reference database they use). If you see -/- (green in a lot of reports) then that means your DNA for that particular SNP is deemed “normal”. In some cases having a +/+ will actually increase the strength of the enzyme that gene produces and is considered abnormal but good and in some cases it decreases the efficiency of that enzyme and will be considered bad (not all reports make this designation and hence why some are hard to read unless you know what you are looking at).

sample livewello report
Sample of my Livewello report


Links to sites I liked and a short review

Again proceed with caution if you do this alone! Research your butt off before you draw conclusions or find someone to help you interpret, and remember it is for educational and informational purposes only unless you work with a genetic counselor, but have fun, this is some really interesting data to dig into! – Exercise and athletic characteristics, free! Here is an article in USA today about how the Baylor Football team is using this genetic information to create individualized training programs for their players. – Tons and tons of information, easy to use, Loads directly from 23andme, free! – easy to load file, takes awhile to process up to 24 hours, once loaded you must download a VCF and TBI file on to your computer. There is a lot of data but a little cumbersome to use, you have to know what you are looking for! Free! -Nice website, you can sign up to get 14 daily emails about various genetic topics. Personalized fitness and nutrition genetic reports, cheapest report is $159. I did not buy one. Connects directly to 23andMe. Small amount of information but its good info. Free or you can make a donation. Report has most of the common single nucleotide polymorphisms that Dr Rhonda Patrick likes to talk about in podcasts and during presentations, a lot of relevant videos/news on the website. Easy to load, takes a few days to process. Data matches you to people with similar traits and/or genealogy. You can be public or private. All reports are $2. Only presents 8 genes, can compare to family members. Only gives information on methylation and detox SNP’s so if you just want to know if you have the MTHFR SNP use this. Easy and free! I like this report, they have a sample to look at. It color-codes your traits so you know if it’s good or bad and gives references. $19 for one report. (did not order) Easy to load, decent report categories but hard to decipher what is bad and good. Free! Easy to load, this is a project to try and understand the relationship between genetics and obesity, you can also connect a fitness tracker to join the study. The gene reports are presented in graphs. It’s a lot of info but need to know what you are looking for; association reports are presented if they exist. One of my favorites, easy to use, supplement info on your methylation pathway. Also books and lectures available about genetics written by Dr. Amy Yusko. $19.95 for a gene variance report, paid subscription for more in depth nutrition reports. One of the more popular user-friendly sites. Good methylation and detox plus supplemental recommendations, free. 4 other paid reports. Easy to load data. For sharing and finding people with similar SNPs A lot of free information, report is $5. Information pulls form Snpedia. This site was recommended to me as the best by someone with genetic experience. Great reports, is the founders website full of great information on genetics and health. $19.99/month but cancelable The website of Dr. Ben Lynch. He does a lot of training in gene education to practitioners and the public. This report mostly focuses on a few main pathways with drawings. $45 for one report. (I did buy this $45 report)


Let me know if you have found any other sites you like. Don’t forget, you only have to run this report once your DNA will never change. The way it expresses itself though is up to you. The field of epigenetics has shown that lifestyle factors: what you eat, where you live, how much you exercise ect. can influence the way your genes are expressed. You can actually change the way your genes are expressed without actually changing the underlying DNA sequence. It is never to late to improve your health and teach your cells to read your genes in better ways. Don’t let a history of heart disease or Alzheimer’s in your family create your destiny. Find out the genes that might influence these disease states and whether yours are active and use nutrigenomics (how food and supplements effect gene expression) to optimize your nutrition based on your genotype. Genes are cool!