does DNA testing determine wellness?

The moment I opened my own Ancestry DNA box and went about the DNA testing process, commercial after commercial advertised the latest at-home kits that reveal your heritage and more.

Not only does DNA testing help us learn more about our family trees, but now they also tell us about our health. From listing to what diseases we are predisposed to develop and even how we should eat and exercise, apparently the key to truly comprehensive wellness is a saliva sample.

Is our new fascination with genetics actually helpful? Or is it all a big hullabaloo?

Undeniably, science has led to some amazing discoveries in how to approach our health. To think that a single vial of DNA can be tested for over one hundred diseases is mind-boggling. Not to mention how much less expensive it is to buy a box and send it to a faraway lab rather than go into a clinic with for testing, going on to pay plenty of dough for limited answers.

Online genetic testing companies have a checkered history. In 2006 and again in 2010, the Government Accountability Office issued scathing reports on the industry, citing vastly different results from identical DNA samples and multiple examples of deceptive marketing. In July 2009, in Science magazine, researchers from Stanford and four other universities reported “Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry tests fall into an unregulated no-man’s land with little oversight and few industry guidelines to ensure the quality, validity and interpretation of information sold.”

This is specifically studying the ancestry information based on DNA testing. Diving into health suggestions seems like another, more dangerous issue entirely. To cover themselves, testing companies say they test only preventable and treatable conditions, serving as scientific, educational and nutritional information only and not to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, disorder or condition.

However, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll take these results seriously. They’ll change how your view yourself and how you go about life. Even if I have a smidgen of a chance to develop a disease, I’ll change my behavior and lifestyle accordingly. Whether it’s worth the effort, who knows? But if you’re paying money for greater insight and answers, chances are you’re serious about what these companies have to say.

Much of the discrepancy is based on articles and research from a few years ago. The technology has inevitably evolved and, to be as successful as they are, these companies must be becoming more accurate and realistic with how they present information. Anything pertaining to your health is shown as a “risk factor” percentage. These kits aren’t made to find a rare genetic condition found in 1% of individuals.

Most of how they dictate their results are from people like you and me submitting our DNA to help them build a database of what to look for in certain conditions. When we volunteer to have our DNA included in larger studies beyond our own curiosities, these entities can become more knowledgeable and have more experience that, in turn, helps more people and turns a “scam” into a helpful resource.

Maybe allowing these companies to have our genetic coding is against our need for privacy. Our DNA truly does reveal a lot of information about us, and by partaking in DNA testing, you’re giving people permission to “own” that DNA. If you’ve never heard of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line, then you might not have even considered this idea.

But this “fad” isn’t going away anytime soon, even if there are obvious pros and cons to it. Companies continue to offer tests that provide insight into ancestry, athletic ability, sleep habits and much more, the list bound to expand. The consumer genetic testing market was valued at $70 million in 2015, but estimates expect it to expand to $340 million by 2022.

While it’s interesting to see what these companies have to say and what they find, the biggest idea to keep in mind is to not be too dependent upon the results. This isn’t a perfect system, especially as long as the industry isn’t regulated up to par. Plus, chances are if you were to take tests from different companies that are reading and focusing upon different parts of your genetic coding, you’ll get different results…so who’s the “right one”?

Go into the process with an open mind. I think we’ll improve as time progresses, but even then, the only person who knows your body best is you. Make choices that feel good to you and be mindful of how you’re feeling.

Some diseases we cannot avoid, and with those we can, what is most important in preventing them is how we approach wellness now, at this very moment. Treat your body, mind and soul well, even if a DNA test doesn’t tell you to.

Mindful meditation: God, You created humanity in Your image and have designed our bodies as temples. Different worldly influences may deter us from focusing on our well-being and treat ourselves with the utmost care, but let us always return to a place of intention and gratitude for our health. In Your Name, we pray. Amen.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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