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What Do DNA Tests Really Tell You About Your Health?

April 27, 2013, 1:00 PM

What's the Latest Development?

Personalized genetic analyses are finally affordable for most curious individuals but what does a breakdown of your DNA really tell you about your health? For about $100, the company 23andMe will tell you what your DNA reveals about your risk for 120 diseases—everything from breast cancer to gout to sudden cardiac arrest. "The tests look at a type of genetic variation called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced 'snip'). ... The notion that these tests can help you calculate your risk of disease are based on studies that compare SNPs in people with a particular condition to the SNPs of those without the disease."

What's the Big Idea?

While many diseases do have a genetic component, very few come down to one specific gene or to genetics alone, says Jeffrey Murray, a geneticist at the University of Iowa School of Medicine and president of the American Society of Human Genetics. "Some experts worry that even with genetic counseling, people will over-interpret their test results, concluding that they can skip the sunscreen if they’re at low risk of skin cancer, for instance, or deciding that they’re doomed if the tests suggest they’re at heightened risk for heart disease." Genetic tests do show some promise in predicting how individuals will react to certain medications, including antidepressants, statins and blood thinners. 

Read it at the Washington Post

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