Do You Really Want to Know Your Genetic Traits?

By Barby Ingle, Columnist  

A few months ago, I got a DNA saliva test done through for $99. I was a surprised at the results both my husband and I received.

We were both told stories by our parents and grandparents about our heritage that could not be true based on our DNA results. We were a little shocked that so many relatives could be so wrong about our heritage.

Then I started to wonder how much it would cost to look at my genetic health traits and found a site that builds a personal health profile based on the DNA genotypes identified in the saliva test.

The second test at was only $5. I thought I wanted to know the results. How good or bad could they be from what I already knew? I am almost 45, have a lot of health issues, and by this age I should know what it is going to tell me. Or so I thought.  

Most of the DNA findings in tests by Ancestry and 23andMe have no meaningful impact on your health. Promethease is great for this reason -- it is a cost-effective way to see if there is anything additional that really warrants discussion with a doctor or genetic specialist.

Since I did a saliva test, there were about 2,000 points of interest that could be run on me. If I had completed a blood test, they could have run over 12,000. I settled for 2,000 and uploaded my Ancestry test data to Promethease.

When I got the results, it was recommended that I sort them by "magnitude." Anything rated as 4 or higher might be worth looking into. I thought -- given my poor health history -- that I would have more magnitude 4 results than my husband.

It turns out I had 271 and he had 237 “bad” genome finds. So either I am not as sick as him or he is just better at sucking it up. Although some of his genomes are considered bad, they are not affecting his health. One makes him prone to balding. Well, we already knew that.  

We knew a lot of other health traits they identified. A few that I found fascinating were my learning disabilities, impaired motor skills learning, dyslexia and poor reading performance, and multiple autoimmune disorders.

If it can pick up the traits I already knew about myself, then I better pay attention to what I didn’t know:  

  • 1.4 times increased risk for heart disease; increased LDL cholesterol
  • 1.7x increased risk of melanoma; increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma
  • 2.7x increased risk for age related macular degeneration
  • 3x increased risk for Alzheimer's
  • Altered drug metabolism and bioavailability
  • Increased risk for type-2 diabetes
  • Moderately increased risk for certain cancers (breast, skin, lung, thyroid)
  • susceptibility to Crohn's disease

There were also some genetic traits relating to medication. I am a slow metabolizer of dichloroacetate (a cancer drug) and I have a Coumadin resistance. I am a slow metabolizer of protein and have multiple slow metabolism issues. I am 7 times less likely to respond to certain antidepressants and have a higher likelihood of favorable postmenopausal hormone therapy.

My results also show that I have an increased risk of exercise induced ischemia. I found that out the hard way after exercising last fall and landing in the hospital. It also showed an increase risk of arthritis. I already knew that, but it is good to know it’s because of my DNA and not necessarily just from all my years as an athlete and cheerleader.

I also have an increased risk for gluten intolerance and for autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease. 

My husband found out that he is not able to get the full benefits of caffeine. No wonder he can drink so much coffee. 

It was interesting to find out that I have stronger cravings for alcohol. If I was an alcoholic, naltrexone treatment would be 2 times more successful with my DNA. Luckily for me I don’t drink.

Another interesting finding was that I am not susceptible to the placebo effect. I think that is really the best part of what I learned.  

There are some things that I would like to unlearn about myself, but overall this was a positive experience. There is still so much more to dive into with my test results and I am sure I will focus on some other areas down the line. I am also excited to talk to my providers about the results so that we can make better plans and follow up on any items that need attention.  

If you take a genetic test and something stands out, I recommend being very specific if you reach out to a genetic specialist for further clarification. Instead of just saying you took an ancestry test and need help understanding it, I was told to ask, "It looks like I might be a carrier for Disease X, can I come in to talk about it and get this confirmed?"

My results kept me glued to the computer for a few days. Once you see them they can’t be unseen. Would you want to see your test results?

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. She is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, motivational speaker, best-selling author and president of the International Pain Foundation (iPain).

More information about Barby can be found by clicking here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.