With millions of us using at-home DNA tests to learn more about our health, Kate Graham investigates the hidden risks of spit-and-send.
Ava* imagined taking a DNA test would simply be a bit of fun. ‘My boyfriend bought the test for my birthday,’ says the 34-year old. ‘I wanted to find out about my ancestry as well as my health. I didn’t think about it at all once I’d sent my tube of saliva off.’ Two weeks later, a blunt email landed in Ava’s inbox. ‘It said I had two copies of the ApoE4 gene,’ she says. ‘For women of my genetic profile, it means around 80 percent of us are likely to get Alzheimer’s by the age of 75. It was a brutal revelation and I felt panic.’
Ava, who works as a science educator, is one of the 26 million people worldwide to have taken a direct-to-consumer genetic test of some sort. Costs vary, but a typical Health + Ancestry DNA Service from 23andme.com will set you back £149. It’s big business with new research predicting the entire market will be worth £1.9 billion by 2024. According to Branded Research, around 15 percent of British women aged 18 to 45 has taken a test in the last two years alone. One third said they wanted to get health information, the same number were interested in their ancestors, while 21 percent did it ‘for fun’.
And it can be fun. Who wouldn’t want to know what percentage Neanderthal you are or how fast you metabolize caffeine? For £129, DNAFit gives diet and fitness insights into how to pick the best meals and workout for your genetic profile. Orig3n has DNA tests for beauty (to reveal ‘how your skin and hair may look, feel and react to various conditions’), and you can also discover more about your metabolism, such as how your body stores and processes fat, and plan your habits accordingly. On 23andme.com, one happy customer explains how she struggled for years with low energy and stomach pain until her DNA test revealed she could have lactose intolerance. Her doctor confirmed the diagnosis, and eliminating dairy has improved her health and quality of life.
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