Wellness

A Guide to Genetic-Testing Kits

A Guide to Genetic-Testing Kits

Curious about genetic testing, we explored the options: kits that could reveal something about the health of your microbiome, which foods you’re sensitive to, how your body metabolizes certain nutrients. Tests that recommend certain strains of cannabis and beauty routines based on your DNA. And even a test that identifies dogs by their shit. But first, a little bit of background on genetic testing; if you already know this world well, you can skip down for our highlights.

It started in 2000 with a novel way to learn about your ancestry. A simple blood test allowed companies like Family Tree to send DNA data directly to consumers, tracing their lineage back to great-great-grandparents. In 2007, 23andMe revolutionized direct-to-consumer testing with the saliva test, which made it simpler (you spit and send in your sample). And 23andMe created autosomal testing that could be used by both men and women to determine their ancestral lines up to five generations back and break down their ethnic makeup by percentage points. This opened the door for the technology most DNA-testing companies use today.

Soon, a lot of genetic-testing websites cropped up with their own spin on your DNA’s story. It’s estimated that genealogical-testing companies have around 26 million DNA profiles. And because of companies like GEDmatch, which have aggregated test results from multiple websites, it’s possible that most people’s DNA can be identified—even if they’ve never done one of these tests themselves or uploaded their own DNA. Forensic scientists have partnered with some of these sites to solve crimes (the Golden State Killer was identified from his distant relatives’ DNA).

Genetic testing and these companies raise serious ethical and privacy concerns. Given this, why might a person choose to submit their DNA? Besides learning you’re not as Irish as you thought, is there a reason for the average individual to be interested in personalized genetic testing?

New research has focused on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and what they can tell us about our health. SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation among humans and occur normally throughout our DNA. Each person has between 4 and 5 million unique SNPs in their genome. These SNPs act as biological markers and determine various aspects of our health.

In the 1990s, an SNP that prevents normal blood clotting was identified in the gene called Factor V. Scientists found that patients with deep vein thrombosis often had this particular SNP. Since this breakthrough, the medical community has been able to use genetic testing to identify risk for over 2,000 diseases by determining whether people are carriers of certain genes. Newborns are screened to help with early diagnosis. And we’ve learned more about how drugs are processed based on a person’s genome through pharmacogenetic testing.

Because genetic tests can outline your SNPs, the real promise of the test results is that they could empower people to optimize their lifestyle based on their individual genome. This is the field of nutrigenomics: It tries to tell you how your genome interacts with nutrients on a molecular level—and how different foods will affect you.

For example, if you have a certain SNP, you may be someone who can’t convert beta-carotene into vitamin A efficiently. So a nutrition-testing kit might suggest that you supplement or eat more vitamin-A-rich foods, like sweet potatoes. And a recent systematic review found that genetic-testing kits that provided lifestyle recommendations led to positive lifestyle changes, especially related to nutrition.

Do these kits tell you the whole story of your health? Well…they can give you insight into how certain genes are related to nutritional outcomes (like how well your body converts an antioxidant you eat into a vitamin you need). But only blood work can detect whether you’re deficient in a nutrient. And the story of one SNP is not the story of how your entire genome interacts with nutrients. When it comes to determining which diet is best for you, genetic tests aren’t totally there yet. But what they can do is help create and reinforce healthy lifestyle choices.

And in the future, maybe they’ll help with much more. Nutrigenomics established itself as a field in the past decade, and other industries, like cannabis and beauty, are following it into the DNA-testing space. Which means we could see some really interesting research in the next five, ten, twenty years.

But back to right now. If you’re ready for testing: See our guide below to get a sense of what’s out there. When selecting a kit, you want to thoroughly vet the company for its scientific accuracy and how it will use your data, to be sure that you’re cool with it on both counts. The most rigorously researched companies will provide the actual studies to back up the recommendations they give you. Be aware that the information a company retrieves based on your DNA may not belong to you and may be sold to other companies; read through the privacy policy to make sure your information is safe to your satisfaction. Also, note that not all of these tests are covered by insurance yet. Many are likely to be covered down the road as the cost of testing begins to decrease and personalized direct-to-consumer medicine becomes more mainstream.

Medical-Testing Kits

  • 23andMe

    23andMe

    The OG genealogy company that paved the way for today’s autosomal testing and saliva swabs is also the only ancestry company that offers health data; the FDA just cleared 23andMe to test for two breast cancer genes and give information on prostate cancer risk.

  • EverlyWell

    EverlyWell

    With the Food Sensitivity test kit from EverlyWell, you can screen your body’s reactivity to ninety-six common foods with a simple finger prick. This can help you identify the foods your body has an elevated immune response to. And if you believe you have food-related symptoms (gastrointestinal pain, headaches, fatigue), you can use this information to start eliminating potential offenders from your diet. Keep in mind, this kit does not test for food allergies and can’t help diagnose celiac disease.

  • Pathway Genomics

    Pathway Genomics

    To reduce the trial and error that can often come with prescription medications, Pathway Genomics has developed two testing kits to analyze genetic variants that affect the way you metabolize drugs, which impacts their efficacy and potential side effects. The Mental Health DNA Insight kit analyzes your body’s response to fifty common psychiatric medications, and the Pain Medication DNA Insight kit tests your response to thirteen pain medications.

Microbiome-Testing Kits

  • BIOHM

    BIOHM

    If you’re looking for a straightforward report card on your gut, it’s BIOHM’s Gut Test. Based on years of research by microbiome expert Mahmoud Ghannoum, PhD, BIOHM scores the diversity of your microbiome on a scale of one to ten. And then it compares your bacteria and fungi—which are commonly overlooked—to estimated healthy levels. It gives an analysis of each strain of bacteria and fungi and provides nutritional recommendations to help optimize your gut. And it also sells a collection of well-researched prebiotic and probiotic formulas.

  • DayTwo

    DayTwo

    By combining clinical parameters with microbiome data, DayTwo uses an analytical model to predict the glycemic response to various foods for people with diabetes. This is based on how the foods are digested and absorbed. The results help people create a personalized meal plan to keep glucose levels in check. And through its mobile app, DayTwo recommends meals and snacks, gives nutritional information, and calculates a health score for each meal the user logs.

  • Thryve

    Thryve

    If you’ve tipped over from gut-curious to gut aficionado: Thryve’s Gut Health kit gives you a panel of your microbiome and sends you back a rating of your overall gut health with a detailed report on each microbe it has detected. It recommends foods for you based on your dominant bacteria and tells you how your microbiome relates to your health in terms of mood, digestion, skin, energy levels, and so on.

Nutrition-Testing Kits

  • Nutrigenomix

    Nutrigenomix

    Aptly named after the field of nutrigenomics, Nutrigenomix applied cutting-edge research on various SNPs related to nutrition and exercise to lay the groundwork for most companies in the space today. You won’t find an integrative app or a cute map of your recommended foods here. Instead, Nutrigenomix’s science-forward Nutrition and Fitness Test gives you a wide array of information related to forty-five genetic markers that affect your nutrient metabolism, cardiometabolic health, weight, lactose and gluten tolerance, eating habits, and fitness (e.g., motivation to exercise or injury vulnerability). It provides tailored recommendations with the research to back them up, whether that’s suggesting you eat more citrus fruits or suggesting you limit your iron intake to reduce your risk of liver disease, arthritis, or heart conditions.

  • Habit

    Habit

    It’s the love child of genetic testing and meal-delivery services: Habit uses blood and saliva samples to determine your response to different foods, then compiles your optimal nutrient intake and recommended foods. You also get a thirty-minute session with a nutritionist through the app, followed by an option to get tailored meal plans (for an additional cost).

  • GenoPalate

    GenoPalate

    Using data from seventy-five different SNPs, GenoPalate creates a profile of how your body metabolizes different nutrients and offers suggestions to optimize your intake of carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. It then recommends the top fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, proteins, grains, dairy products, nuts, and oils for you. Bonus: It can run analyses on existing data that you’ve sent to 23andMe or AncestryDNA.

Niche Testing Kits

  • CannabisDNA

    CannabisDNA

    Anxiety from one puff too many is a learning curve most of us could do without. By analyzing seventy of your genetic markers, CannabisDNA recommends the THC:CBD ratio and strains it thinks are right for you based on cannabinoid metabolism. It also makes suggestions for strains based on what behaviors you’re trying to avoid or attain—like if you want some extra help falling asleep or if your munchies are out of control.

  • Orig3n

    Orig3n

    Could your genome help you hack your beauty routine? The Beauty DNA Test from Orig3n tests for parameters related to your skin’s appearance and health, signs of aging, skin elasticity, and response to sunlight to give you an actionable beauty report. For example, you might want to start taking that collagen supplement earlier than you thought.

  • PooPrints

    PooPrints

    If you’re the leave-it-and-run type of dog owner, you might want to reconsider. For apartment buildings that use PooPrints, during an initial “doggy day,” DNA samples are collected from each dog in the complex. Then, when the building finds any rogue droppings on the property, they’ll send it off to PooPrints to determine whose pup it belongs to. And a (large) fine can follow. While this might not be a genetic test to improve your well-being, some may consider it a form of self-improvement (and here’s to a future where you can find out who took a bite out of your sandwich in the work fridge).

This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.

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