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Health and Fitness News

What’s in Your DNA?

Can you trust mail-in DNA tests?

Inside each of the 37.2 trillion cells in your body is a unique code that makes up your DNA. With 3 billion possible letters of DNA organized into 23 pairs, the human genome is no simple puzzle to figure out. But scientific advances have led to the development of tests that can analyze your DNA to help narrow down your genetic ethnicity, predict your risk of certain diseases, and even connect you to long-lost relatives. Are you part Native American or Spanish? Are you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease? Where is your birth family?

A simple DNA test promises answers to these and other questions. As a result, the genetic genealogy business is booming. So far, millions have had their DNA tested, and more are doing it every day. All it takes is a cotton swab of the inside of your cheek or a little saliva in a sealed container. Mail it off to a company you found online and in six to eight weeks, the results are mailed to you or available online. For this simple but potentially useful service, you’ll pay anywhere from $50 to $200.

You may find interesting facts about your health and family tree, but as with any test, can you trust the results?

Chances of Disease

What are your chances for developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, lung disease, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or celiac disease? Are you a carrier for certain health conditions that may affect your children? Some DNA tests offer this type of information. You’ll pay more to get your DNA tested for disease markers, but many people find this information valuable for their personal healthcare.

When you get your results, however, take them with a grain of salt. Just because the test says you have an increased risk for a disease doesn’t mean you’re inevitably going to get it. In addition to genetics, your lifestyle, environment, and diet play a large role in your health. Take care of your body, eat a healthy diet, don’t smoke, and get regular exercise, and your risk of disease is reduced, regardless of how large your risk may be.

Your Family Tree

There are multiple DNA testing companies and each of them have their own database of DNA samples that they compare your DNA to in order to find matches. Therefore, it seems obvious that the results you get may not be completely accurate if the company you use doesn’t have a database that contains your specific DNA variants. Get tested from different companies and you may get different results each time. While some get close, none are 100 percent accurate.

Sibling DNA

Many people are surprised when their full-blood siblings get different ancestry results. The reason for this isn’t because your sister was secretly adopted. Unless you have an identical twin, you can’t share 100 percent of your DNA with anyone else. As you learned in biology class, you get half of your DNA from your mom and half from your dad, and each half can be different for each sibling. Your brother may have your dad’s Asian DNA and you may have more of your mom’s Scandinavian. You don’t look or act just like your sister, so why would you have matching DNA?

Different Types of Tests

Doing an online search for DNA tests brings up dozens of different testing companies. You may assume they all do the same thing, but they don’t. Before sending your saliva and money to a company, make sure you’re getting what you ask for. Always use a company that meets government standards and has positive reviews.

The three different types of DNA tests include autosomal, YDNA, and mtDNA. The most basic and cheapest is the autosomal. For males or females, this test gives you cousin matches and an ethnicity estimate up to six generations back on both sides of your family.

A YDNA test is only for males to track their ancestry. The mtDNA test is for males or females, but only looks at the mother’s maternal line. Both tests give results that date back further than six generations.