If you had the opportunity to find out if you are genetically predisposed to certain conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, mental disorders, etc., would you do it? What if you had the opportunity to learn more about your ancestral past through your genetics? What used to be a pipe dream is now within our grasp. For around $100, 23andMe will use your saliva to unlock the secrets of your genes.
Based in Mountain View, California, 23andMe is the brainchild of Anne Wojcicki, Paul Cusenza and Linda Avey, and was named the Invention of the Year in 2008 by Time Magazine. And it’s no wonder—ease of use (all I had to do was spit in a test tube sent to me by the company) and reasonable cost have made it feasible for regular people to learn more about their health so that they can take the steps to avoid certain diseases.
My curiosity about the product was piqued when a friend posted about it on Facebook. As someone with a family history of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, blood clots, and who knows what else, I wanted to find out what my chances were of living with or passing on these health issues one day. I’m already saddled with bad eye sight (thanks Mom!); the thought of having to take multiple pills several times a day sucks. It’s a fate I’d like to avoid if I can help it.
And like many Americans, I’m curious about my ancestors—where did they come from? Sure, family lore says that we’re descended from the English pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock, and we have a smattering of German, French and Native American thrown in, but how much? (My Mom’s side is much more clear-cut—Belgian, like Jean Claude Van Damme, and waffles.) What other nationalities and ethnicities will be thrown into the mix? (Are humans like dogs, where the more “mutt” we are the healthier we are, too? Riddle me that, geneticists?)
Genetic testing isn’t for everyone—a few people who I spoke with were adamantly opposed to it, saying they’d rather not know. Additionally, there’s also a chance that you could find out something that you don’t want to know, which may impact your future decisions (like whether or not you want to have kids knowing that you could pass something on to them).
For me, knowledge is power. The more I know about the potential health issues I could face, the more proactive I can be right now, by changing my diet and lifestyle to possibly change my fate. Plus, I’ll have the information at hand to let my physicians know what treatments may or may not be effective.
Although ignorance is bliss for many, I’d rather know what I’m up against.