Genetic Wellness Testing: Hype or Hope?

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Determining what genetic wellness testing is right for you.
Photo Credit: Jacob Colvin.

Genetics is the code of life. Genetics can reveal a myriad of information about our bodies. Genetic wellness testing is a powerful tool with medical and non-medical applications. 

Genetic testing can tell us whether we’ve inherited specific genes from our parents. Some of these genes make us more susceptible to developing particular diseases.1 These tests also help oncologists plan personalized cancer treatments,2 confirm biological family members,3 and provide insight into personal characteristics related to fitness and nutritional needs.4

Traditionally, physicians would order genetic testing for their patients. However,direct-to-consumer genetic wellness testing has become increasingly popular, enabling patients to undergo private testing without needing a referral from their doctor. There are many companies and wellness centers that offer this personalized service. Keep reading to determine which genetic wellness testing is right for you.

Advantages of direct-to-consumer genetic testing

There are several advantages to pursuing direct-to-consumer genetic testing:

  1. First, the process is relatively straightforward and minimally invasive. There requires a biological sample, such as a mouth swab or blood draw, to be sent to the company for gene extraction and analysis. This format spares the individual the burden of commuting to the clinic or hospital for the sample.
  1. Next, performing an at-home genetic test can be more affordable than obtaining one through a clinic or hospital. In addition, the results are generated relatively quickly and sent directly to the patient, saving a trip to the doctor’s office. 
  1. Finally, direct-to-consumer genetic testing can provide insight into one’s health and personal wellness. These tests can provide peace of mind or empowerment to make the appropriate lifestyle changes for optimal health. If needed, the wellness center or company may offer genetic counseling to help interpret the results and answer questions.5,6  

Limitations of direct-to-consumer genetic testing

Several disadvantages to direct-to-consumer genetic testing also exist. Without specific knowledge and training, one may misinterpret their results. Misinterpretation can generate distress. Furthermore, involving a physician may be necessary for the company to receive the relevant medical history. 

Depending on the results, the patient may receive guidance on which action(s) to take. Moreover, a genetic test can reveal susceptibility to a particular disease but this does not mean a guarantee of the development of the disease

Finally, in the United States, direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies are not governed by the same privacy laws as healthcare providers.5,6 

Conclusions

In conclusion, direct-to-consumer genetic wellness testing is a quick way of decoding one’s genetic makeup. However, it is recommended to approach direct-to-consumer genetic testing cautiously. 

It is always encouraged to do the necessary research, ask questions, and discuss concerns and results with a physician or genetic counselor. 

References

1. Karam R, Conner B, LaDuca H, et al. Assessment of diagnostic outcomes of RNA genetic testing for hereditary cancer. JAMA Netw Open. Oct 2 2019;2(10):e1913900. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.13900.  

2. Brittain HK, Scott R, Thomas E. The rise of the genome and personalised medicine. Clin Med (Lond). Dec 2017;17(6):545-551. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.17-6-545.  

3. Kirkpatrick BE, Rashkin MD. Ancestry testing and the practice of genetic counseling. J Genet Couns. Feb 2017;26(1):6-20. doi:10.1007/s10897-016-0014-2.  

4. Hall JA, Gertz R, Amato J, Pagliari C. Transparency of genetic testing services for ‘health, wellness and lifestyle’: Analysis of online prepurchase information for UK consumers. Eur J Hum Genet. Aug 2017;25(8):908-917. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2017.75.  

5. Ayala-Lopez N, Nichols JH. Benefits and risks of direct-to-consumer testing. Arch Pathol Lab Med. Oct 1 2020;144(10):1193-1198. doi:10.5858/arpa.2020-0078-RA.  

6. Oh B. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: Advantages and pitfalls. Genomics Inform. Sep 2019;17(3):e33. doi:10.5808/GI.2019.17.3.e33.  

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