Can DNA Test Kits Prevent America’s Deadliest Diseases?

Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and heart disease rank high among America’s deadliest diseases. The habits you keep (or don’t) and your genes often determine how likely you are to develop these and other serious, potentially deadly illnesses.

That’s one reason home DNA test kits have become so popular in recent years. Sure, they can tell you a lot about your heritage. But sending a small amount of spit off to a lab could also reveal how likely you are to develop certain diseases based on your genetic profile.

There are pros and cons to this simple method of diving deeper into the potential future of your health. But are companies like 23andMe convincing people to take charge of their health while they still can — or just increasing their anxieties about what lies ahead?

DNA test kits and your health

DNA test

DNA test | iStock.com/anyaivanova

Most people who purchase home DNA test kits do so to learn more about their heritage and ancestry. But companies such as 23andMe are also authorized by the FDA to provide customers with reports about their disease risk.

We’d all love to know whether or not we might develop a terrible, incurable disease — right? So many people cross their fingers and hope these kits can give them some insight and ease their anxieties about health.

These tests can in fact provide information on how likely you are to develop certain diseases when analyzing your DNA, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Breast and ovarian cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Agre-related macular degenration
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obesity.

But there are a few problems with knowing your risk for Alzheimer’s, celiac, and cancer.

What DNA test kits can’t do

Genetic tests can tell you things about your health you never thought you’d want to know. But they aren’t diagnostic tools, and you shouldn’t take their results to mean you’re in better or worse health than you thought you were.

A test kit’s results can’t tell you whether or not you’re guaranteed to get a disease or how to prevent it. All it can do is tell you whether or not you’re at an increased risk for certain health conditions. If your results come back and say you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean you already have it or will develop it randomly at any time.

DNA testing

DNA testing | Vchal/iStock/Getty Images

 

Some research has also shown that these types of tests don’t tend to change the way people behave. They’re not necessarily more likely to talk with their doctor about their results or adapt their eating or exercise habits to decrease their disease risk.

Because many of the nation’s deadliest health conditions are connected to lifestyle habits, these tests aren’t necessarily making people healthier if they aren’t using them to make better choices. And if you aren’t talking to a professional about your risk, there’s no way of knowing what to do with the genetic information you’ve been given.

It’s not that these tests are inaccurate, though results can vary considerably, or aren’t worth satisfying your curiosities. But experts do advise that if you have concerns about your disease risk, you should talk with your doctor. They can help you interpret results, and provide suggestions regarding what to do to lower your risk.

There’s no guarantee that most diseases can be fully prevented. But with the right information — and motivation — you can use what you learn to take your health into your own hands.

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