Guide to Finding the Best DNA Health Test

Medically reviewed by: Gerard DiLeo, MD
Last Updated: Mar 18, 2019

23andMe's DNA Test

Health DNA testing has come a long way in recent years, and it is thrilling to imagine the wealth of information we’ll be able to learn about ourselves in another 10 years. Last year, 23andMe became the first company to receive FDA approval to market genetic risk information for certain conditions. Unlike some of the other well-known DNA testing companies like AncestryDNA or MyHeritage, 23andMe has focused a lot of its efforts on providing consumers with very useful health-related information. For that reason, and given that there is not much competition in the space (yet!), we can cut to the chase: 23andMe is our top choice for health-related information.

Read on to find out how DNA health tests work, what you can discover about your health from them, and how we determined our recommendations.

Summary of our Findings and Recommendations:

Here are the best DNA test for health:

What can you learn from DNA health tests?

DNA health tests can tell you quite a bit about certain aspects of your genetic health, ranging from serious to fun. Here are some of the specific areas that you can learn about.

General health risks

By analyzing your DNA and looking at what genetic markers are present, DNA testing companies can tell you about your risk of developing a range of conditions. For example, 23andMe covers nine different disease-risks, including your likelihood of developing:

  • Breast cancer
  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Parkinson’s disease

The Mayo Clinic’s GeneGuide test checks for 15 different conditions and the results provide you with valuable information that can be used to make more informed medical decisions. However, it is always important to remember that these tests do not provide diagnoses. You should interpret the results carefully, ideally with the help of a genetic counselor or healthcare provider.

Our recommendations:

Mayo Clinic’s GeneGuide [See latest price]: Our top pick, GeneGuide, is the most comprehensive in terms of the number of conditions covered. Carrier screening (see below) coverage is also very solid.

23andMe’s Ancestry + Health [See latest price]: This test covers the most common health risks and conditions for carrier screening. If you are also interested in Ancestry testing, 23andMe is probably the better choice.

Specific health risks

Some testing providers offer genetic tests that take a deep dive into one specific health risk. There are only a few currently on the market, and most are found in the Helix DNA Store. If you are interested in learning about a specific condition that runs in your family, taking one of these tests will give you more detailed information and cost you less (in most cases). Three wide spread conditions where health risk-specific tests are available include Alzheimer’s, cholesterol, and diabetes.

If you are concerned mainly about cholesterol, for example, Admera’s Inherited Cholesterol Test focuses on finding out whether you are predisposed to having Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) which is an inherited cause of high cholesterol. FH is caused by genetic mutations that inhibit the liver from efficiently removing cholesterol from the blood, provoking aggressive and premature heart disease. FH is notoriously underdiagnosed, and research suggests that 90% of affected individuals do not know they have it. If patients are diagnosed, prescription medications can be started early, as well as the usual precautions taken by people with high cholesterol, such as following a low-cholesterol diet and avoiding smoking.

Our recommendations:

Alzheimer’s ApoE Test [See latest price]: This test very thoroughly examines which combination of ApoE variants you have. For example, those with E4/E4 have the highest risk, while those with E2/E2 have the lowest risk (with all the other combinations falling in between). 23andMe’s test also touches on this information.

Admera’s Inherited Cholesterol Test [See latest price]: While many other general health tests, such as those from 23andMe, screen for FH, this test is the only one currently on the market that focuses on it.

Admera’s Inherited Diabetes Test [See latest price]: Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (or MODY) is a different form of diabetes for which insulin may not be an effective form of treatment. Unlike Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, which are caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, MODY is caused by a single genetic variation. This test comprehensively screens for that variation.

Carrier screening

Carrier screening is a type of genetic test that can tell you whether you carry a genetic variant associated with certain genetic disorders. Most of the time, these variants will not affect you directly, but you may pass them on to your children. Examples of diseases that can be passed on in this way include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and hereditary hearing loss. Most commonly, if both parents are carriers for a certain disease-causing variant, there will be a 25% chance that their child will be affected by the disease. Taking genetic screening tests can allow couples to take steps to minimize the chances that their children will inherit a disorder, or allow them to plan for the future, often with the help of a genetic counselor or their healthcare provider.

Our recommendations:

CarrierCheck by Sema4 [See latest price]: CarrierCheck focuses exclusively on carrier screening, covering a whopping 67 inherited conditions. This test is the most comprehensive onin the market by far, and this makes it our top choice for carrier screening exclusively.

Ancestry + Health by 23andMe [See latest price]: This test covers a solid 44 different inherited conditions. This is 20+ fewer conditions covered (and the less common ones at that) compared to CarrierCheck, but this test includes Health Risks, Wellness, Traits, and Ancestry reports. If you are looking for broader health information, this test may be a better choice overall.

Wellness & traits

Wellness and traits reports contain information on other traits that are related to your overall health. These include your natural “genetic weight,” how likely you are to experience deep sleep, and your predisposition for addiction, along with other traits. This information can be useful to guide you in terms of your diet and lifestyle, but don’t read too much into the results! For instance, you may weigh much less than the average person of your sex and age, but find that your natural genetic weight is in fact 7% above average. This is because genetics is only a small part of the story; lifestyle and environment are very important factors for most characteristics covered in this test.

Our recommendations:

Ancestry + Health by 23andMe [See latest price]: This test contains 8 wellness reports and 25+ traits (as of 2019). As we mentioned many times, 23andMe really offers the most comprehensive, best all-around test, and particularly shines in a number of areas.

Helix’s DNA Discovery Kit [See latest price]. This test covers 8 food and drinking-related habits, along with 6 ancestry-related insights (such as cold and malaria adaption). This test comes in a distant second compared to 23andMe, but it is a little less expensive, and currently includes a $20 credit that can be used for more comprehensive tests in the Helix Store.

Nutrition & fitness

Some “wellness” areas are more popular than others, and nutrition and fitness are the most popular by far. Tests in these two areas aim to go beyond simply giving you nice-to-know information. Instead, they give you actionable recommendations that will enable you to live a more healthy lifestyle. In a nutshell, the tests look at specific gene variants that are thought to be associated with particular traits such as metabolism, muscle tissue type, gluten sensitivity, and nutrient absorption. As long as you: 1) take the resulting recommendations with a grain of salt, 2) keep in mind that lifestyle and environmental factors also weigh heavily in most outcomes, and 3) consult a professional nutritionist or physical trainer before making any drastic diet or workout regime changes, these tests can be motivating and fun.

Our recommendations:

Nutrition by Orig3n [See latest price]: This test analyzes 19 different genes related to hunger, food aversion, weight, food breakdown, and vitamins. The same caveats mentioned above apply. But of all the nutrition tests based on not yet-fully-developed science, we like this one best.

Fitness by Orig3n [See latest price]. This test analyzes over 20 different genes relating to exercise recovery, metabolism, muscle strength, joints, and power performance. This analysis is then used to provide recommendations to optimize your fitness.

Cellular aging

Incredibly, it is now possible to learn about how well your cells are aging using DNA testing. The tests are based on telomeres, which are cap structures that protect the ends of our chromosomes from being degraded. Your telomeres naturally wear down and shorten as you age; each time a cell divides and DNA replicates itself, telomeres get a little shorter. But please keep in mind that scientific evidence shows that other factors within our control can affect our telomere length positively and negatively, including stress management, diet, exercise, and sleep quality, to name a few.

By measuring the length of your telomeres and comparing this result to others of your age and sex, it’s possible to estimate how well you appear to be aging compared to others of your demographic, according to the company database.

Our recommendations:

Telomere Health by TeloYears [See latest price]: There is only one test that we know of that measures telomeres, and that is Telomere Health. Luckily, it is very good and we have no issues recommending it. TeloYears also offers an additional, decent Ancestry-related test at an additional charge.

How DNA health tests work

23andMe's DNA Testing Lab

DNA is the genetic code that governs the functioning of our cells and essentially determines every biological aspect of who we are. You can think of it as a kind of blueprint that controls the way your body works and which is passed down through the generations in the form of sequences of code called genes. All humans share over 99.5% of our DNA with one another, but it is the genes making up the 0.5% difference that account for all of the diversity we see among individuals. These gene differences are called ‘variants’, and while most gene variants are neutral, or account for the normal variation among us all, some can cause serious diseases.

DNA testing involves providing a sample of your DNA (usually in the form of a saliva sample) which is sent to a lab for analysis. Using the extensive databases and associated research, testing companies can predict your risk of developing certain diseases based on what gene variants are present in your code. You’ll receive comprehensive reports outlining your risk factors for each disease, along with your carrier status and additional information explaining how to interpret the results.

For a more detailed explanation of how DNA testing works, we created an entire guide on this topic: Comprehensive Guide to How DNA Tests Work.

Interpreting your results

There is a lot to consider both before and after undertaking a health DNA test. If you’re planning on taking health DNA tests, 23andMe advises you to get in touch with a genetic counselor beforehand to discuss your expectations regarding the test, whether you may be distressed by the resulting information, and whether the benefits of learning such information outweigh the drawbacks. Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals with special training in the interpretation of these kinds of reports. Consultation in advance is of course optional and many customers don’t feel the need to do it.

However, it’s extremely important to discuss any worrying or alarming DNA health test results with a genetic counselor or healthcare provider, rather than trying to interpret the risk information yourself. Even if the test does not recognize any variants for a particular illness in your genome, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are not at risk of, or a carrier of, that disease variant; not all variants for these illnesses have been identified yet (in the case of 23andMe, further information on this would be available in the report itself). If you do test positively for a particular disease risk variant or carrier variant for some specific illnesses, there are a variety of options that you might consider to effectively minimize your risk and that of your children, and so you should share your results with your doctor.

Privacy considerations

Your genetic data is the most personal information you possess, and privacy is an important consideration when deciding which DNA testing provider to use. All DNA testing companies will have comprehensive privacy statements, and these are the best places to start when evaluating different providers. In the case of 23andMe, you have a number of decisions to make before receiving your results, including:

  • Whether you want your saliva sample discarded or stored once it has been analyzed
  • Which health reports you would like to opt into or out of
  • Whom you would like your information shared with
  • Whether or not you consent to the use of your DNA results for scientific research purposes

Most companies go to great lengths to ensure confidentiality, but if you’re concerned about privacy, some research on the company website is advisable before committing to a particular test provider.