The 23andMe DNA test offers two packages, ‘Ancestry’ and ‘Health + Ancestry’. I woke up at 8:40am this Sunday Morning (find out why that’s relevant towards the end of my review) and checked my email, eager to read about the 23andMe test, which is designed to help you find out about your health traits, health predispositions, wellness, and ancestry. Although I was very interested to find out about my ancestry, I also wanted to know more about my health traits and how that may be affecting my running performance, and of course what I may be able to do to improve said performance using this knowledge.
So what did I find out from the 23andMe DNA test? I learned a lot from the 23andMe Health report, but a highlight is that I am predisposed to being an elite power athlete with the fast muscle twitch gene. This explains my ability to run relatively fast for distances up to 30km but then why my performance begins to tail off for the marathon distance and ultrarunning. That’s not to say I can’t improve at longer distances, I just need to put more effort in to develop those slow-twitch muscles.
However, if I’ve learned one thing from knowing so many runners, genetics isn’t everything! The choices we make about how to train will far outweigh the contribution of our genetic result at this particular marker.
How to take the 23andMe DNA test
After choosing from the Health + Ancestry test or the standalone Ancestry test online, the saliva collection kit typically arrives within 3 to 5 days. Once you receive your kit all you have to do is provide a sample of your saliva and send it back to 23andMe in the included prepaid package. See the video below to get an idea of how easy it was for me and exactly what it entails.
What’s in the 23andMe box?
How long does it take to get your 23andMe DNA Test results back?
After approximately 3 weeks you should receive an email letting you know that your reports are ready to view in your online account. If your family members have taken a 23andMe test too, you can connect with their accounts to get even more accurate information based on their results too.
What do the 23andMe Health reports tell you and how accurate is 23andMe?
The four reports from the 23andMe DNA test are:
1. Health Predisposition reports
These reports explain how your genetics can influence your chances of developing certain health conditions. Included in these reports are your genetic predisposition for your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, coeliac disease, late onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brca1/brca2. Of course, many people may not want to find out the results of Health predisposition and I completely understand that, so 23andMe has an option where you can opt out of receiving these results (I chose not to find out).
I find this report particularly interesting because I feel like it provides actionable advice, or at least data for you to factor in to your decision-making if you’re contemplating making a change to your lifestyle choices. You can learn how your genes play a role in your well-being and lifestyle. For example, you can find out how your DNA relates to your caffeine tolerance, lactose digestion and muscle type.
I’m always a fan of the mantra “listen to your body” because it’s usually telling you things for a reason. Seeing some of these results reaffirms some things for me, like the effect of saturated fat on my weight. For example, my weight is likely to be similar on diets high or low in saturated fat with the same number of total calories, meaning that if I were to be eating unhealthy foods, I may think I’m actually healthy based on my outer appearance when in actual fact I could still be at risk of heart disease (I’d be ‘skinny-fat’).
So 23andMe’s suggestion is for me to limit my saturated fat intake. It may not have a large effect on my weight, but it’s important for reducing my risk of heart disease. Luckily I already follow a healthy diet and do not consume very much saturated fat but it’s a useful reminder.
It was pretty cool to discover that my genetic muscle composition is common in Elite power athletes.
What is an elite power athlete?
This is a classification of athletes that’s based on a genetic marker in the ACTN3 gene. The marker controls whether muscle cells produce the protein called alpha-actinin-3, That’s found in fast twitch muscle fibers. Yes, fast twitch muscles are genetic, to some extent. Some people don’t produce the protein at all, almost all of the elite power athletes who have been studied have a genetic variant that allows them to produce the protein.
This suggests that the protein may be beneficial at least at the highest levels of power-based athletic competition. I’m definitely not an elite athlete but I generally finish races within the top 25% of finishers, but I always wonder if I was much more dedicated in my training, how far I could push my performance. Maybe I will find out one day…
Can genes predict athletic performance?
Most of the elite power athletes who have been studied have a genetic variant that allows them to produce the alpha-actinin-3 protein in their muscles. Does that mean that people who don’t produce this protein are more likely to be endurance athletes? Studies in mice suggest that the answer may be yes: young mice who don’t make any of this protein are able to run farther without getting tired. But studies in humans have not consistently shown an endurance advantage for people who don’t produce the alpha-actinin-3 protein.
Differences in this genetic marker may only explain about 2-3% of the difference in muscle performance between different people, says 23andMe. In elite athletes who work intensely to reach the upper limits of their potential, that 2-3% may mean the difference between qualifying for the Olympics and missing the cut. But for the rest of us, myself included, the choices we make about how to train will far outweigh the contribution of our genetic result at this marker.
“Athletes are made and born!”
So, in answer to the question “do genetics play a role in sport?”, it seems that yes they do, to a certain degree. It helps to have certain markers if you want to be at the top end of performance elite athletes, but you also need to have the dedicated and potentially obsessive mindset to be able to do all the hard training required to be the best of the best.
Does the 23andMe DNA test check for food sensitivities?
Although this 23andMe test will predict your likeliness of being lactose intolerant, it does not test for food sensitivities.
3. Carrier status
These reports can help you find out if you are a carrier for an inherited condition that could affect your children. Similarly to the house predisposition reports, some people may not want to discover the results of carrier status. Included in these reports are cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and hereditary hearing loss. I have chosen not to learn the results of this report. If I decide to unlock the findings, I’ll edit this post accordingly.
Slightly milder and maybe more fun are the traits reports. With these reports, you can learn how your DNA influences your facial features, taste, smell, and other traits. For example, the report predicted that I’m more likely to enjoy chocolate ice cream over vanilla. It’s a close call but correct none the less.
These reports include predicted hair and eye color and things like the likelihood of having a male bald spot, fear of heights, flat feet, mosquito bite frequency, motion sickness and even what time you’re most likely to wake up at naturally. Yes, my report said 8:40am, which is exactly when I woke up this Sunday. I had a lie-in! 🙂
What do the 23andMe DNA Test Ancestry reports tell you?
With more than 35 reports available, the results from the ancestry test are really informative. Your DNA comes from all of your ancestors and within your DNA it’s possible to find genetic traces of where your ancestors lived throughout history. You also share DNA with people around the world today and you can choose to connect with these people through 23andMe’s DNA relative database if you like.
You can also discover maternal and paternal haplogroups to trace parts of your ancestry to a specific group of individuals from 1000 + years ago. Rather interestingly, I discovered that I share a paternal-line ancestor with King Louis XVI. I always knew there was something regal about me, haha!
How much does a 23andMe DNA Test cost?
The Health + Ancestry DNA Test, which is 23andMe’s full-service package costs $199 and for the stand-alone Ancestry DNA Test, it’s $99.
1 new from $199.00
The process of ordering the DNA test kit and then performing the 23andMe test was very easy to follow and quick to complete, and because the test requires only some saliva (not blood) it’s a very un-invasive test, that most should feel comfortable taking. The health and ancestry results of my 23andMe DNA test have certainly given me things to think about.
It has motivated me to push my running potential further, to see where my limits are. It has also inspired me to research my family history more. Helen and my parents are going to take the full DNA test as well so that we can connect our profiles and learn a deeper understanding of our connected health and history.