23andMe Reviews: A Complete Guide to 23andMe's Health and Ancestry DNA Tests

Medically reviewed by: Stephanie Curreli, MD, PhD
Last Updated: May 10, 2019

23andMe

Founded in 2006, 23andMe is one of the big three autosomal DNA (atDNA) companies, along with AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA. Our internal experts took these tests and have done all the homework, so you don’t have to. Skim our high level recommendation if you are short on time, or dig down deeper into our thorough review.

Review Summary

Pros

  • One of the few testing companies that offers the option of a Health Report (Genetic Risks and Wellness) in addition to Ancestry Reports–all in one test submission.
  • Online reports are intuitive, well designed, and fun.
  • Overall, the Health & Ancestry Package is a great value.
  • The regional breakdown for ancestry groups just got significantly better; in 2018, 23andMe added new regions, for a total of over 1000—far more than Family Tree DNA or AncestryDNA.

Cons

  • At over 5 million, the overall living relative database is somewhat smaller than that of other companies.
  • If you are looking for wellness reports that focus only on a specific area such as fitness or nutrition, other tests provide greater detail and deeper insights.

Bottom Line

If this is your first DNA test, and you are looking for an easy, one-stop test that includes health-related reports, we think you will be happy with 23andMe’s test. In our opinion, it is the best overall genetic test for your average test taker. However, if you intend to do some hardcore ancestry research or if your primary goal is to find long-lost relatives, other tests, such as those from Ancestry DNA or Family Tree DNA, might be a better option for you.

23andMe Rating by

5 stars for health testing (4 stars if you're a serious genealogist)

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Pricing and Options

The Ancestry test alone retails for $99. If you want both the Ancestry test and the Health test component, that will cost $199. Ordering the Health test later would cost you $125, so if you know you want to do both, you can essentially save $26 by ordering both tests up-front. We should also mention that there is an additional $9.95 shipping fee for standard delivery, which includes all postage. After paying for the test (and shipping), there are no additional costs.

Discounts: The DNA testing industry is getting competitive, and therefore, we are seeing companies offering discounts more frequently. There is the Valentine’s Day Sale, Black Friday, Summer Discount… you get the picture. We sometimes see ~20% off as the average discount.

To see current prices and promotions, you can go HERE

Submitting your DNA

23andMe’s DNA submittal process is fast, easy, and painless. Once you place your order, your saliva collection kit should arrive in 3 to 5 business days. After you receive it, you just register your collection tube online using the barcode (so they know who it belongs to), place your saliva into the tube (a.k.a. spitting), and send the kit back in the prepaid package. It takes approximately 3-5 weeks after sending for your reports to become available online (mine only took 5 weeks).

Reports and Features

23andMe’s reports can be broken down into two types: Ancestry Reports and Health Reports.

Ancestry Reports

Ancestry Composition

This atDNA result breaks down your approximate ethnic ancestry down into percentages (like 24.4% Eastern European, 17.6% Asian, 12.8% Middle Eastern, etc.).

Maternal & Paternal Haplogroups

These are the results of the mtDNA and yDNA tests. Specifically, you will learn the haplogroup of your direct maternal line (since your mtDNA has been passed down from mother to mother, through your mother to you) or your direct paternal line (since the Y chromosome passes from father to son, generation after generation).

Neanderthal Ancestry

Ever wondered how much Neanderthal genetic heritage you have? Before Neanderthals vanished from the earth, they did crossbreed with other humans, so most of us have some degree of Neanderthal ancestry. Find how much you have! You can even explore what traits you might be able to thank your Neanderthal ancestors for passing down to you.

Your DNA Family

“Your DNA Family” is a relatively new feature, and it’s basically a cousin-finding engine. Drawing on its impressive database of DNA data, 23andMe tells you about other people who have portions of DNA identical to yours. The more the portions overlap, the closer a relative you are. You can find 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even 5th cousins!

Health Reports

Health Predispositions Report

23andMe is FDA-approved to give you a genetic health risk report, which tells you if your DNA test revealed that your risk level for developing certain health conditions. Your test can tell you if your genes put you at statistically higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Celiac disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration or several other health concerns. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this in no way means that a person will actually go on to suffer from the disease; it’s merely a study of risk level. Think of it more like a weather report—there could be a risk of a windstorm tomorrow, but high winds may never actually develop.

Wellness Reports

This report tells you more about how your DNA may affect your body’s response to diet, exercise, and sleep.

Carrier Status

This report will be of great interest to couples who see children in their future. Are you a carrier of a particular recessive gene? Is your spouse? If both of you carry a particular recessive trait, it could be your child’s dominant trait. This report may help you gain insight into potential genetic risks for your children.

Traits

Will your hairline keep receding? Are your children likely to have freckles and curly hair? This report tells you a lot about these and other superficial traits that fascinate us all.

Other Important Considerations

We are satisfied that 23andMe takes your privacy very seriously and takes many precautions to ensure that only you decided whom to share your information with (if anyone). The company commits to never selling or leasing your individual-level information to any third party without your explicit consent. However, it does retain the right to share aggregate information with third parties in order to initiate further research. This data is always anonymized to protect your identity always, but some test takers do take issue with the fact that they can’t know or control what third-party groups or research initiatives benefit from their anonymized DNA data.

Database Size

23andMe has over 5 million users (as of 2019). This metric is especially important to testers who hope to find DNA relatives, as the larger the database, the more relatives you are likely to find. While 5 million is quite large, competitors such as Ancestry DNA have considerably larger databases.

Data Exportability

The company makes it easy to download your raw data. Just click on the “Download your data” section, and you can obtain a zipped file. The process can take up to an hour. Data exportability is important because your ability to upload it to other databases will help you maximize what you’re able to learn from the results and also connect with larger communities of people with the same goal as you: uncovering their ancestry and the secrets of their family history.

Regional Granularity

With over 1,000 distinct ancestral regions, 23andMe offers more regional granularity than AncestryDNA or Family Tree DNA. This is valuable when taking an autosomal test. It means that when 23andMe tells you the breakdown of your ancestral heritage, their breakdown might be more geographically specific than what you find with other companies.

23andMe Versus the Competition

While we’re on the subject of the competition, let’s summarize how 23andMe compares to major competitors:

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA

If you have any interest in learning your direct paternal and maternal haplogroups, you’ll be out of luck with AncestryDNA, which only offers the autosomal test. AncestryDNA also does not offer a health DNA test.

But AncestryDNA has a much larger community and database, making it possible to connect with more living cousins. It does a fantastic job of connecting your DNA test results with your family tree efforts, as well as loads of historical records.

If your primary goals are genealogy and finding living relatives, AncestryDNA is the winner. But if you are interested in both your deep ancestry and what your DNA can tell you about certain health risks, then your choice should be 23andMe.

Budget-wise, comparing the initial price tag of AncestryDNA’s atDNA test to 23andMe’s, 23andMe looks like it costs more. But keep in mind, you’re really getting three tests in one, meaning your value is higher with 23andMe (with the previous caveat about community and database), as long as you are interested in the yDNA and mtDNA test results. One other very important consideration: AncestryDNA will require you to pay a monthly fee to continue accessing your data and reporting features, which may raise your overall price significantly.

23andMe vs. Family Tree DNA

23andMe actually has a larger database than FTDNA, but it does not have much of a genealogical community. FTDNA has a thriving community with many projects devoted to studying various haplogroups. Both companies offer all three ancestry DNA tests, but FTDNA does not do any health testing.

If your main or only interest is the autosomal test and learning about your ethnic ancestry, your most economical option is FTDNA, because you can buy its individual atDNA test from them at a lower price (23andMe only offers the bundle of the three tests). If your sole interest is in learning about your ancestry and family history and you don’t mind paying a bit more for all three ancestry tests, your best choice might arguably be FTDNA; FTDNA has a solid database as well, and you can benefit from the support of that strong genealogical community.

If your interests include your genetic health risks and those of your children, then 23andMe is the right choice for you. If your goal is to take the atDNA, yDNA and mtDNA tests within a tighter budget, you should choose 23andMe, where you can do it for quite a bit less.

As more and more people choose to take DNA tests, there are also more opportunities for finding good ways to work around 23andMe’s community shortcomings. GEDmatch is a good example of a third-party database that’s growing rapidly, bringing together data from people who tested with 23andMe, AncestryDNA and FTDNA. With a little extra leg work, you can make your DNA data tell you as much as possible. And at 23andMe, you can take the tests about as affordably as possible.

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