23andMe Reviews: Considering Personal DNA Testing?

When it comes to consumer genetics testing, 23andMe ranks at the top. Here, we give an honest look for those considering it for personal DNA testing.

 

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By: Chris Riley

Medically reviewed by: Camille Freking

Last Updated: December 24th, 2021

 

About | Testing Options | How it works | Customer Reviews | The Verdict

Ancestry has always been a popular topic of interest for many people. Learning about your ancestors and where they came from is one way people are able to connect with their heritage. However, for years, that information was only passed down through families.

But not these days. Thanks to the advancements in biotechnology and understanding in the areas of DNA and genetics, people are able to trace their ancestry with a swab of spit — literally.

At-home DNA testing services have exploded in popularity in recent years. In fact, one report from MIT Technology Review stated that more than 26 million people have taken at-home DNA tests. That was back in 2019, and the numbers have not slowed down.

One of the companies leading the DNA testing charge is 23andMe. It is one of the largest consumer genetics and research companies around today, ranking at the top along with AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA.

We’re here to give you all the information you need if you’re considering 23andMe for personal DNA testing.

About 23andMe

Officially founded in 2006, 23andMe is one of the most recognizable testing companies  in consumer genetics products.

The company set out to make DNA more accessible and meaningful to a wide audience. To date, 23andMe has sold more than 12 million DNA kits and offers over 55 health reports.

What We Like About 23andMe

  • Intuitive reports: One of the biggest advantages of 23andMe is how intuitive we found their reports to be — plus, the reports cover a wide range of genetic predispositions. Both the ancestry and health reports are comprehensive, easy to navigate, and informative.

  • Great service options: 23andMe offers three tiered options, covering ancestry, DNA relatives, health predispositions, and more. The costs are comparable to other consumer DNA services.
  • FDA-authorized health reports: While most consumer DNA companies offer health reports, 23andMe offers consumers FDA-authorized health reports. This has implications when it comes to prescriptions, so it’s a definite plus.

What We Don’t Quite Like About 23andMe

  • Getting back a report takes a long time: Typically, you can expect to wait anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks to get back your gene reports — this wait can feel like a long time, especially when you give this as a gift.
  • Limited genetic variants: Some believe that 23andMe lacks a copious number of genetic variants in their health tests. For example, their predisposition and carrier reports only test for some disease variants and genetic health risks.
  • Results are great, but not perfect: As with all consumer DNA services, at-home collection kits can produce false positives when it comes to variants. One study from Genetics in Medicine reported roughly 40% in false positives in consumer genetics tests raw data.

How Does 23andMe Stack Up Against AncestryDNA?

23andMe and AncestryDNA are considered the top tier of consumer at-home DNA testing kits. While both offer a wide array of ancestry and trait reports, AncestryDNA does go beyond 23andMe.

It is more regionally specific and features reports that trace ancestral movement. This is due to a much wider customer database.

However, if you are looking for a one-stop shop for ancestry and health information, 23andMe is the better choice. AncestryDNA offers no health reports but instead focuses on heritage, family migration patterns, and connecting you to possible family members.

A Look at 23andMe’s Options

23andMe offers three different packages, each with varying prices and levels of reporting. Ancestry + Traits is considered the lowest level, Health + Ancestry is mid-range, and the 23andMe+ Membership is the highest and most comprehensive level.

Types of Ancestry and Health Reports

23andMe offers numerous reports depending on the kit, both in the area of ancestry, traits, and health.

Ancestry reports include:

  • Ancestry composition – This report breaks down your DNA, giving you an accurate picture of ethnic ancestry in percentages.
  • Ancestry timeline – For each population group (e.g. British, Irish) you get an ancestry timeline showing how many generations ago the most recent ancestor might have lived.
  • Paternal & Maternal Haplogroups – Help discover the origins of both maternal and paternal-line ancestors (i.e. haplogroups) and how and where they moved around the continents thousands of years ago.
  • Neanderthal DNA – This report allows you to see how much supposed Neanderthal ancestry you may have in your DNA line.
  • DNA Family – Using their vast DNA database, 23andMe is able to help construct your family tree with other members, from siblings to 5th cousins and more.

Trait reports include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical features – Physical traits that are common (and likely) based on your DNA profile (e.g. eye color, cheek dimples, earlobe type, etc.).
  • Weird features – It also provides other odd trait features like earwax type, back hair likelihood, photic sneeze reflex, and more.

Health reports include, but are not limited to:

  • Health predispositions – These offer insights into potential health predispositions based on your DNA (e.g. type 2 diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, and more).
  • Wellness reports – These cover lifestyle factors, such as diet, sleep, and exercise.
  • Carrier status reports – These reports allow you to see what specific genetic variants you may have and could pass down to children (e.g. cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and more).

Ancestry + Traits

If genetic ancestry is all you’re worried about, then Ancestry + Traits is the best option. It is also 23andMe’s lowest cost package and service at $99.

This package focuses on genetic background and family history. The ancestry report offers customers a breakdown of which regions their ancestors came from.

Also, this package features some insights into characters and features that are common to your genetic type — hair color, eye color, etc. Furthermore, you will be able to see any DNA relatives that are part of the 23andMe database, helping you build your family tree.

  • Ancestry composition (to the 0.01 percent) and detailed report (over 2,000+ geographic locations).
  • Ancestral history provided, including ancestry timeline, haplogroups, famous relatives, Neanderthal DNA
  • DNA Relative Finder (optional)
  • Automatically builds family tree
  • Over 80 total reports

Health + Ancestry

This package runs $199 and offers personalized genetic insights and tools to help give you a better understanding of your health and genetic predispositions. The good news is, you get all the same ancestry information that came with the Ancestry + Traits package.

The step up here is the extensive health reports, offering insights into how DNA affects chances of developing certain conditions. Health reports include Type 2 diabetes, Celiac disease, cholesterol, and more.

There are also reports that provide insights into lifestyle factors, such as muscle composition, genetic weight, and more. Also, the reports in Health + Ancestry will provide insights into genetic variants and inherited conditions.

  • Includes all ancestry composition reports found in Ancestry + Traits
  • Includes FDA-authorized reports
  • Over 150 personalized reports 
  • Eligible for FSA/HSA reimbursement

23andMe+ Membership

Those looking for exclusive access to premium reports might enjoy 23andMe+ Membership, which requires a one-year prepaid membership fee of $9.99. This is in addition to the cost of the Health + Ancestry kit ($199).

In addition to getting more exclusive reports, such as insights into heart health and other genetic predispositions, membership also includes insights into pharmacogenetics.

This allows you to see how some common medications may affect you given your genetic variants. Also, membership gives your more advanced DNA Relative filters. 

  • Includes all reports in the Health + Ancestry kit.
  • Enhanced ancestry features and filters 
  • Access to exclusive reports (i.e. pharmacogenetics)

How It Works

23andMe’s CLIA-certified lab extracts the DNA from the salvia sample and processes it with a genotyping chip that is able to read thousands of your genetic variants.

Once analyzed, your personal reports are generated. The whole 23andMe process can be done in three easy steps, right from the comfort of home — no needles or blood required.

Step 1: Order the Kit

After familiarizing yourself with the main options, time to order the kit that works for you.

We think that the Ancestry + Traits is great for those just looking to explore where they came from, but if you want insights into your health opt for the Health + Ancestry option.

Our kit arrived in 3 to 5 days after ordering.

Step 2: Send in Some Spit

Sounds gross, but it beats a needle. The saliva kit came with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. Once we provided our saliva sample, we registered the collection tube using the barcode provided. Then, we mailed it back with the prepaid package. Nice and easy.

Step 3: Explore Results

The best part is being able to explore DNA results. According to 23andMe, you can expect results in roughly 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll receive an email when your detailed report is ready to be viewed online.

Ours luckily landed just a few days after the 3-week mark, but we expect it could take longer than the 4 week estimate during peak testing times, i.e. the holidays.

We also liked that 23andMe’s mobile app was easy to use for exploring reports from a tablet or smartphone — apps don’t always keep up with the desktop site, but we thought they pulled it off fairly well.

Some Common FAQs

Is my DNA information safe?

Yes. 23andMe takes customer privacy seriously. Simply put, you control how your personal information is used and shared. You must opt in to use 23andMe’s services.

Furthermore, they have measures in place to help prevent unauthorized access to their customer’s genetic information.

What about my DNA sample, what happens to it?

As the customer, you decide what happens — whether it is saved by the lab or discarded after it is analyzed.

What 23andMe Customers Are Saying

“Taking the DNA test was the best decision made. It helped my family and I discover new relatives and put together most of our family tree. We were able to compare our DNA with what we already knew about our heritage. I strongly recommend everyone testing and learn your truth.”

- Val, 5/5 of stars on Trustpilot

“I bought the ancestry package and then I upgraded later for health. It was really fun and informative. The customer service is really helpful and quick to respond to your concerns, even when I missed my discount they helped me use it.”

- Khaled, 5/5 of stars on Trustpilot

“Awesome experience! The ancestry piece was really cool and I learned some eye opening things I didn’t know. The health portion has made me more aware of myself.”

- Lily, 5/5 of stars on Trustpilot

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The Bottom Line

The advancements in biotechnology and genetics have allowed new doors to open, one of them being the area of genetics and ancestry. 23andMe provides some amazing insights into both your ancestry and health.

So, if you are considering DNA testing, 23andMe provides a comprehensive and affordable option we think is worth trying.

References and Sources:

More than 26 million people have taken an at-home ancestry test | MIT Technology Review

Home | 23andMe

False-positive results released by direct-to-consumer genetic tests highlight the importance of clinical confirmation testing for appropriate patient care | Genetics in Medicine

AncestryDNA® | DNA Tests for Ethnicity & Genealogy DNA Test

Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) | FDA