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Since getting my genetic drug sensitivity testing results, I’ve been fascinated with what genetics can tell me about how to best manage my health. Those initial testing results just whetted my appetite, so in January, Mr. Chickadee and I sent in 23andme spit kits.

I found the results pretty interesting. Everything is reported with indicators of certainty based on research – 4 star certainty usually means that there were at least 750 cases, 750 controls, and results replicated at least once in a study of similar scale. For you non-researchers, those are pretty high standards for certainty. The reports are split into categories based on whether it’s about ancestry or health.

In terms of Ancestry, I’m even more of a mutt than I had expected. I have 2.8% Neanderthal DNA, which I had no other way of knowing. I have 99.6% European ancestry (yep, pretty white) but that .4% includes Native American, East Asian, and Sub-saharan African genes – more diverse than Mr. Chickadee, with whom I share almost 78% of my DNA.

Health is broken up into 4 subcategories: health risks, drug response, inherited conditions, and traits. Drug Response is the simplest – there are only a few that get checked, but my results showed increased sensitivity to Warfarin, which would be very valuable information if I ever needed a blood thinner (currently dosage is best guess unless you have gene data.) There is zero overlap in the drug sensitivity/response data between 23andme and GeneSightRx reports, even though 23andme’s gene chips include all the right data for the more detailed drug sensitivity analysis.

Under Health Risks, I’m actually in pretty good shape! My most substantial risks are coronary heart disease (31.4%; 1.29x normal likelihood) and rheumatoid arthritis (6.3%; 1.49x normal likelihood). Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t much surprise – both my mom and grandpa had heart attacks in their early 50’s, and my mom didn’t survive hers. But only about 34-59% of heart disease risk is due to genetics, so I really do have a lot of power to reduce the likelihood of heart problems.

RA was unexpected, but knowing that it’s a risk would make it much easier to catch early, which makes it possible to achieve full remission instead of lifelong disability. Other risks to watch out for include cancers of the stomach and esophagus, PCOS (I have every single currently known genetic marker), and a few others.

But wait – here are a few of my reduced risk categories:

  • Diabetes, both types
  • Breast cancer
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Melanoma
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Migraines

Isn’t that awesome? It doesn’t mean I won’t become diabetic and won’t get skin cancer, but it’s just not as likely as the average person, and I’ll take those odds! I have average risk for many other conditions, including bipolar disorder and ADHD, so obviously we only know so much about genetics, and again, environment matters.

In the Inherited Conditions category (I think the category refers specifically to heritable genetic mutations rather than standard variations), I’m only a carrier for one mutation for a kidney disease. Since kids aren’t in the plans, that’s of little concern.

Traits was actually a more interesting category than I had expected. OK, so mostly just novel – it was accurate in predicting straight hair, brown eyes, ability to taste bitterness, blood type, smoking behavior, and several other details.

Whole milk versus homemade almond milk

Whole cow’s milk versus fresh homemade almond milk

The big surprise? The Traits report showed that I’m probably lactose intolerant. I had no idea! It turns out that you can be lactose intolerant but still have a relatively high tolerance before your body rebels. And you can also be totally ignorant that your symptoms aren’t run-of-the-mill digestive variability.

Compared to everything else on 23andme’s extensive and fascinating reports, lactose intolerance seems, well, average. But unlike many other conditions, this condition is pretty much diagnosable from the results: genetics are entirely responsible for lactase enzyme production into adulthood.

It’s also something I can act on, today, right now. And so I shall. I’ve been cutting my dairy consumption and while I haven’t been strict enough about it to be certain, it does seem to make a positive difference. So despite my deep love of cheese and yogurt and ice cream, it seems worth continuing to limit dairy consumption (fortunately butter has so little milk protein that it’s safe to consume as much as I please. Well, aside from the coronary heart disease thing…)

All of this is from 23andme’s standard reports – interesting, entertaining, and potentially life-saving information. One of these days, however, I want to download all of my data and run it through Promethease so I can really dig into it.

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