In the last 10 years DNA testing, also referred to as ‘genetic testing’ has become quite popular. More and more people are delving into their ancestral backgrounds and learning more about their families and their heritage.
For some of us, this need to understand where we come from isn’t just for the young and doesn’t go away easily. What options are available for DNA testing, is there an age limit and what else can we learn about ourselves in the process?
What is DNA Testing?
DNA (or genetic) testing is a process by which DNA is gathered, usually spit, blood, skin or fingernail and the sample is analyzed to determine the genetic results. The results can indicate ancestry and heritage, parentage, possible predisposition to medical conditions and is sometimes used in criminal investigations.
Keep in mind there are different types of genetic testing. Different tests can look for different things and the tests available online may show different things than say, a test performed by a doctor or geneticist/specialist may show.
Why DNA Testing?
Genetic testing has been used during pregnancy to determine medical risks and used in crime investigations to determine if a person was present at a crime. But why would the average Joe or Josephine want a DNA test?
As online tests became more popular and reputable, the majority of people have used DNA tests to determine familial heritage and ethnicity. Our heritage can be complex and due to age or other circumstances, we may not have our own elders to help us understand our ancestors and how we fit into the picture.
What are reputable tests?
These days, testing is as simple as ordering a kit online and then spitting into a tube in the comfort of your own home. After mailing off the sample, you’ll receive email results after approximately 6 weeks.
After speaking with genetics experts, according to Business Insider, the 4 most reputable at-home DNA tests are:
Tests via your doctor’s office
If your family doctor wants more information about your health, they may recommend getting a genetics test done. If screening for a particular risk factor, they may order the test and advise you on how to proceed. Find more information on testing via your doctor’s office here.
Testing costs can range from as little as $100 (for general test-at-home kits) and as far upwards as $2000. Generally, the more specific the screening, the higher the cost.
Results are usually available from 2-6 weeks.
What could I learn?
You could learn about your heritage, where you came from and approximately “when” your family members were in a specific geographical region. You could learn about medical predispositions and parentage (are you your parents’ biological child?).
You could also potentially use this information to find extended family members that you didn’t know existed or hadn’t met yet.
Is there a downside?
Taking into consideration the depth of knowledge that can be revealed, some people have received surprising and sometimes upsetting results. From something as small as not being “as Italian” as you thought you were to something as large as finding out that a parent or sibling isn’t biologically related to you.
In days past, secrets were easier to keep and sometimes a DNA test can reveal information that older generations in our family tried to hide.
Understanding that tests can also reveal markers that indicate a predisposition to specific diseases, you may also find out that you are predisposed to “fill-in-the-blank” disease. If you don’t want to know that you may have a predisposition to Alzheimer’s, cancer or any other serious disease, (or if this revelation will cause you stress), you may want not to have testing done (unless requested by your doctor).
Warning and possible concerns
Be sure that you are having testing done via a reputable online company (such as the ones listed above) or by your doctor. There are plenty of scams in which people may try to steal medical identities and your personal information.
Never respond to an email, text message or phone call with any personal or medical information. For more on the dangers of DNA scams, click here for an article from the National Council on Aging.
If you’re considering having DNA testing done, be sure to think about all the factors involved. You may find that it is or isn’t worth it and since we’re all different, that will be an extremely personal decision.
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