Cracking your genetic code

By Carrie Johnson • Published: April 15th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Curious about your genetic history? Wondering if you’re more susceptible to certain diseases? You no longer have to rely on a doctor. For about one-thousand dollars and a swab of saliva, you can get a full scan of your DNA from any one of a number of private companies now offering the service.

But while there are benefits to knowing more about your genetic code, experts say there’s also some significant drawbacks. They criticize these companies for overselling their insights and producing reports that are easy to misinterpret. Results can also create unnecessary anxiety, or conversely, encourage a false sense of security.

A wide range of services are currently available. Some companies will test risk for a specific condition, such as celiac disease. Others focus on a customer’s ancestry. The most expensive option? A full genome sequencing, which can cost as much as one-hundred thousand dollars. However, most companies look at just a snippet of the customer’s DNA, which can still provide a wealth of genetic information at a cost of between four-hundred and one-thousand dollars.

Advocates say knowing more about one’s genes can encourage people to take appropriate measures toward preventive care, help them choose better medicines and encourage them to make lifestyle choices. But the results aren’t always reliable. In one recent study, samples from one person were sent to two different companies. The samples yielded contradictory risk results in seven of the eleven diseases for which they were tested.

The bottom line: Take the results with a grain of salt. Or better yet, you just might want to seek your doctor’s advice before you even take steps to delve into your DNA.