At-home genetic test reveals secrets about your health

- You could call 23andMe a test for the genetically-curious. 

For $199, you can find out what your genes reveal about not just your ancestry and your traits, but your health.

Dr. Jeffrey Pollard, Director of Medical Affairs for 23andMe says 2 million people have already taken the test.

"I think it's exciting to learn something about yourself," Dr. Pollard says.  "Everyone likes learning new things about themselves."

The process is pretty simple. 

You order the kit, collect a sample of your saliva and send it off to 23andMe.

A few weeks later, through an online portal, you can read you genetic health risk test results, and find out if you might be at higher risk of developing certain diseases like late-onset Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.

But genetics testing in relatively new, says Pollard, and there are limits to what 23andMe can reveal. 

"We are not a diagnostic test," Pollard cautions.  "So, we aren't telling anyone the have a certain condition. We're really presenting them with an element of their genetic risk, if you will."

Kimberly King-Spohn, Director of the WellStar Center for Genetics,  says at least a third of her patients have mentioned 23andMe since April, when the US Food and Drug Administration cleared the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company to offer health risk information to consumers for 10 disease and conditions.

King-Spohn has some concerns.  

"It's confusing," she says.  "They get a very long report with a lot of information, and patients have had a difficult time interpreting what that means for their health."

Dr. Pollard says 23andMe provides a lot of context, to help customers make sense of their findings.  

But, King-Spohn argues patients may not want to know they're at higher genetic risk of developing diseases they can't really do anything about.

"We don't have a treatment or intervention for Alzheimer's disease," she says. "So, what would you do with that information?"

Pollard says the information 23andMe offers is just a piece of a much larger puzzle.

"We like to highlight the fact that your genetic risk is just one element in play," he says.

Because, Pollard says, there are a lot of factors you can control, when it comes to your health.

"You might be able to change certain other things that you do in your life, whether it's exercise, or your activity level, your diet, whether or not you smoke," he says.

Both Pollard and King-Spohn agree it's important to read the fine print, before you get screened, to make sure you understand what 23andMe can and cannot tell you.  

It's a lot to absorb, they both say.

"But it's also empowering" Dr. Pollard says. "And, we hear that our customers are taking this information and doing something with it in their lives.  So, that, I think, is a very powerful beginning."

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