June 2019 UPDATE: Helix DNA recently announced that it was abandoning its “App Store for DNA” strategy, and we believe that it will only be a matter of time before it stops supporting the tests that it currently has for sale. Therefore, we advise that you do not purchase any Helix DNA tests and instead consider choosing our top-rated DNA test provider 23andMe.
For your protection, all reference links in the guide below now point to the corresponding test from 23andMe.
The leader in DNA testing 23andMe was founded in 2006 and has over 5 million users. This is key for finding relatives.
An excellent choice for your first DNA test if you are looking for an easy, one-stop test that includes health-related reports. It is the best overall genetic test in our opinion.
DNA Discovery Kit
The DNA Discovery Kit is Helix’s newly designed DNA testing product, retailing at around $80 [see updated price and current promotions]. This kit is perfect if you are looking for a broad overview of basic information found in your genes. At a relatively affordable price, you can get both introductory insights relating to your ancestry (called “Ancestry Basics”) and wellness (you guessed it, called “Wellness Basics”).
Under the Ancestry Basics results, you will get a report that shows a percentage breakdown about your ancestral roots, broken down into 5 high-level sub-groups (East Asian, European, Indigenous American, South Asian and Sub-Saharan African). You’ll also get valuable information on how the genes that you inherited may affect your adaptation to cold weather, diet or metabolization, altitude tolerance, and malaria protection.
The Wellness Basics part of the test results provides some interesting insights into how your genetic make-up can affect traits such as caffeine consumption, calcium levels, endurance, and Body Mass Index (BMI). Endurance is what your genetics say about your athletic abilities from analyzing a gene variant associated with high performing endurance athletes, and BMI is a term to measure the body fats of adults based on height and weight. For example, you will discover what variant of the FTO gene you carry. FTO is the so-called “fat gene” which has been associated with obesity.
This kit is a great starting point with Helix. After you have done this test, you won’t need to provide any additional DNA samples after purchasing additional Helix DNA add-on products, subsequently reducing the cost of future tests.
However, if you have an idea or specific category (health, wellness, ancestry, etc.) that you would like your genetic test to focus on, it may be best to start with a specific product that will give you a more detailed insight.
Lastly, we want to mention that Helix’s DNA Discovery Kit includes a $20 promotional card that can be redeemed towards more specialized Helix tests. For more information about this test, updated pricing, and this promotion, we recommend visiting the Helix website.
The Helix Store does not offer many Ancestry tests at this time. In fact, it only offers one offered, but the one, National Geographic Geno 2.0, is very good.
National Geographic Geno 2.0
Helix has partnered with National Geographic to create the Geno 2.0 test. This test gives you much more detailed insight into your ancestral genetic make-up as compared to the Basic Ancestry reports in the DNA Discovery Kit. It retails for $59.99 if you have already had your DNA tested through Helix, and $99.99 if you haven’t provided a DNA sample yet [see updated prices].
Geno 2.0’s reports will give the story of the likely migration routes of your ancestors, as well as how much of your DNA is shared with our hominid cousin - the Neanderthal. As an extra bit of fun, you can find out whether you share DNA with any historical geniuses (of the ones that they have on record, anyway). Geno 2.0 covers over 250,000 ancestry-related markers, so it is a detailed view of your DNA.
As an added benefit, Geno 2.0 is part of the National Geographic Genographic Project which aims to improve our understanding of our shared genetic characteristics and better shape the map of early human history. The collaboration between National Geographic and Helix works by Helix sequencing your DNA and sending the relevant information, encrypted to ensure your privacy, to National Geographic which generates the reports. Overall, our editors really liked this test.
Helix offers a number of “Health” tests. Below are the ones that we particularly like.
Mayo Clinic GeneGuide
Teaming up with the Mayo Clinic, Helix offers a test named GeneGuide. This test provides insights into how your DNA could impact your health including certain risk factors associated with complex diseases and other traits. This test is one of the most comprehensive health-related DNA tests available direct-to-consumer and includes reports in the following areas: - Carrier Screening (e.g. Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease) - Disease Risk (e.g. Age-related Macular Degeneration, Coronary Artery Disease) - Medication response (e.g. Ibuprofen Metabolism, Malignant Hyperthermia) - Health Traits (Alcohol Flush Reaction, Lactase Persistence) - Other “Tools” (Lifestyle Risk Assessment, Health Ancestry) - Education (In-depth information about all conditions mentioned)
We believe that the ‘Carrier Screening’ and the ‘Disease Risk’ part of the reports are the most useful. The former allows you to check if you are carrying a variant that is associated with a “faulty” gene. This means that if two individuals carry a faulty copy of the same gene, their children may inherit the associated disorders such as Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Disease, among others.
The Disease Risk results will give insights into how your genetics and lifestyle influence your risk for some complex diseases. These diseases are referred to as complex because they are rarely associated with one single genetic factor. Often, these complex traits involve the interplay of many genes as well as environmental factors.
With this test especially, it is important to understand that it is not a diagnostic tool and should not be used as such. It also does not look at all possible genes associated with a particular disease or trait. The test will not find or report on any variation associated with traits or diseases not included in the list. For this test, we also like how Mayo Clinic offers to provide you with follow-up medical counseling should you want expert advice after you obtain your results.
Sema4 has partnered with Helix to provide CarrierCheck. CarrierCheck is a genetic test that analyzes your DNA to see if you carry variants associated with 67 different diseases known to be autosomal recessive. Autosomal recessive diseases mean you need two faulty copies of a gene to develop the disorder. Carrying one ‘faulty’ copy of a gene will still make you unaffected by the disease (e.g., signs or symptoms may not manifest). However, if your partner is also a carrier of a non-functioning gene, then your children might be at risk of inheriting the disease. Remember, autosomal recessive disorders only occur when two copies of a faulty gene, one from each parent, are passed down to their child in order for a disease or a trait to develop.
Your test report will contain educational resources to help inform you about the diseases tested for. You will also receive a session with a certified counselor, which is already included in the cost. Furthermore, your results can be shared with your physician if you have more questions.
So, if you want to know if your DNA structure can affect your future children, we recommend this test. Also, compared to the “Carrier Screening” portion of the Mayo Clinic GeneGuide test mentioned above, CarrierCheck is more comprehensive, because its entire focus is on screening, which by the very nature of a screen throws a “wide net” to offer better surveillance for, and sensitivity to, inheritable diseases.
CarrierCheck retails for $239.99 if you have not previously tested with Helix, and $199.99 if you have already provided a sample. As always, we recommend visiting the Helix website directly for updated pricing and current promotions.
Lastly, a word of caution: If you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, you are not an appropriate candidate for this test. Geneticists and physicians recommend you should seek a more comprehensive carrier test panel with appropriate pre- and post-test counseling that is directly overseen by a specialist.
Inherited Cholesterol Test
If you are concerned mainly about cholesterol, this could be the best test for you. The 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.
This test could be appropriate for people who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and for whom efforts to modify their diet and lifestyle have not successfully lowered it.
Helix has partnered with Admera Health to offer this test of four key genes for $164.99, or $124.99 if you have tested through Helix before. However, they currently do not identify all possible genes or variants linked with FH, and a negative test result does not definitively mean that an individual is unaffected. For more information about this test, updated pricing, and promotions, we recommend visiting the Helix website.
We love the fact that Helix/Admera also provides access to genetic counselors after you have received your results.
Please note: Physicians are aware of the risks of FH and the benefits of diagnosing it early, so if you are thinking of taking this test because you have a legitimate concern about having FH, your first step should be to speak with your physician, who will be able to advise you on the appropriate tests.
Alzheimer’s ApoE Test
The Alzheimer’s ApoE Test is aimed at people with a family member who has been diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or people who want to understand their risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This test checks the DNA sequence at a gene called ApoE that has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Your test results will explain which combination of ApoE variants you have. ApoE is a gene that makes a protein is important for carrying lipids in the nervous system. There are three variants, named E2, E3 and E4. The most common variant in the Caucasian population is E3, with E2 and E4 being relatively rare. Having two copies of E4 is associated with a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, alternatively, having E2 is associated with some protection from Alzheimer’s disease. The combination of variants you have inherited can determine your risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important to keep in mind that this test does not cover all types of dementia, and there are also other variants associated with early and late onset Alzheimer’s disease that are not covered by this test. It should also not be used as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease.
This tests normally retails for $199.99, or $159.99 if you have been tested with Helix. We find that this particular test is often on sale ($119.99/$95.99 at the time of this writing), so we definitely recommend taking a look at the current price and promotions directly on the Helix website.
The distinction between “Health” tests and “Wellness” tests is subtle. In short, health is a state of being, whereas wellness is the state of living a healthy lifestyle (according to the NCBI). Below are a few of Helix’s Wellness tests that we can recommend.
“Lose It!” (one of our least favorite company names) has partnered with Helix to create the embodyDNA test. Lose It! is a weight loss app designed to deliver personalized weight loss regimens using goal setting and calorie tracking. EmbodyDNA is an extension of their app, where the information contained within your DNA sequence is used to guide your weight loss plan.
This test’s results will report information that covers various factors where genetic variants have been associated with your body’s response to certain food types: the metabolism of nutrients, weight loss, and physical activity. Some of the types of information you receive are the ratios of macronutrients you might find most effective, your potential food intolerances, and how your body might respond to different exercises for weight loss. You will also be given a list of suggested beneficial foods and ways to conveniently integrate them into your diet.
If you are interested in how genetics may influence your health and well-being, you might find this app entertaining and useful. However, do not expect weight loss miracles. While it might be helpful and interesting to know what your genes say, dieting success is of course not guaranteed, because other factors also contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, including your weight and fitness levels. The product just goes one step above some of the other apps and gives you actionable advice about your health and fitness based on the information contained within your genes.
This test normally retails for $89.99, or $69.99 if you are already been tested by Helix. However, our test trackers often see this test on sale (currently for $59.99 and $46.66, respectively), so please check out the test on the Helix website for current pricing and promotions.
Here is a very short promotional video produced by Lose It!
If you are concerned with your tolerance to various food types, the Food Sensitivity+ kit could be an interesting test for you. Everlywell specializes in at-home lab tests. They have teamed up with Helix to provide a unique product, combining a DNA test and a biomarker. [See our Everlywell reviews for more information about their home tests.]
The information gathered from your DNA is combined with a biomarker test which looks at the levels of circulating biomarkers in your blood. Specifically, it looks at the reaction of your body based on the presence of antibodies. The presence of these antibodies does not signify you are highly allergic, but Everlywell suggests they could imply you are more intolerant to certain foods, leading to symptoms such as tiredness, bloating, and stomach problems.
This test checks your tolerance to 96 different food types and then combines this knowledge with DNA tests of four genes: MCM6, CYP1A2, ALPL, FUT2, and DCDC5. Research has associated these genes with metabolism and absorption of some nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
The information contained in your report could lead you to make more informed decisions about your diet and help you to prioritize reducing or cutting out certain things that might not be doing you any favors. However, the scientific validity of such biomarker tests has been called into question. Some physicians worry that test takers can wrongly attribute worrying symptoms such as bloating and fatigue to food intolerances, when they, in fact, warrant a trip to the doctor to rule out more serious causes. This test can be fun if you are a little curious about how your DNA, lifestyle, and biomarkers are all interacting. However, please use common sense. If you have legitimate concerns about food allergies or intolerances, you should speak to your physician in the first instance.
The test normally retails for $289.00, or $249 If you have already sequenced your DNA with Helix. Please take a quick look for the Helix website for current prices and promotions.
Everlywell and Helix teamed up to create the Metabolism+ Test. This test is another example of a 2-sample collection kit, requiring both a DNA test and a biomarker test (all for one testing fee). The biomarker test looks at the levels of 3 hormones in your blood: cortisol, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and testosterone. These hormones are associated with stress, energy levels, and even weight gain.
The DNA test looks for variants in the genes APOA2, FTO, PPARG, and MC4R. These genes have all been associated with fat metabolism and body shape. The combination of results from these tests can inform you of potential lifestyle changes you could make to influence your overall health and wellbeing.
Like with other similar tests, you take the test results with a grain of salt. Genetic predispositions are not the main factor in your weight or overall health; positive lifestyle changes should be made irrespective of what is found in your DNA. And, if your energy levels or weight gain are a concern for you, you should always visit a physician, as this test is not recommended to replace medical diagnostics.
The two tests and the report cost $189.99. If you have already sequenced your DNA with Helix, the Metabolism+ test and report costs only $149.99. For more information about this test, updated pricing, and promotions, we recommend visiting the Helix website.
When DNA testing companies categorize a test as “entertainment,” we usually take that to mean something like “loosely based on science.” Helix’s Entertainment tests are no exception. We struggled to find any of these tests that we could recommend. In fact, we found only one worth considering, assuming you take it for what it is: an entertaining test that should not be taken too seriously.
BABYGlimpse is a fun–but perhaps a little gimmick–DNA test that you and your partner can take together that will give you both a “glimpse” of various traits your offspring may have. (Or in their words, the test creates “intimacy through information.”) Marketing jargon aside, it is actually a pretty novel test that covers: appearance (8 traits), wellness (9 traits), Ancestry (1 report), and 4 “Just for fun traits.”
BABYGlimpse’s value proposition is in allowing couples to explore this information together, both in the past and in the future, giving you an idea of what the combination of your traits could look like in a child. If you want to know the chances (in terms of percentage) of having a child has that has hazel-brown eyes or if he/she will be lactose intolerant, then this test may be for you.
Check the Helix website for current pricing and promotions. One thing to keep in mind is that you will need to purchase two tests (one for you and another for your partner) for this whole thing to work.
Helix’s DNA submission process is easy, quick, and painless. Once you place your order, the Helix DNA kit will arrive in the post in 5-9 business days, although quicker delivery options are available for a higher postage fee. When the kit arrives, you simply register the kit on the company website, follow the instructions provided to supply a small saliva sample, and return the kit to Helix using a pre-paid shipping box that will be included in your package. Helix will then sequence your DNA and provide whatever data is necessary to the supplier of your first DNA analysis product for testing. You will receive an email when your results are ready to be viewed.
Currently, you cannot download your raw gene sequencing data from Helix. The ability to download this data is usually a plus because it can be uploaded to other databases or service providers to gain greater insights into your genetic health or history. However, in the case of Helix, the resolution of the sequencing data is much higher than that offered by other testing companies so far and is not compatible with most consumer analysis programs; hence, there isn’t much that the amateur genealogist can do with such a large amount of data. This may not be the case in the future, and so the lack of a download option may be something you want to consider.
Helix vs the Competition
Helix is fairly unique at the moment, and so there aren’t many similarly structured services to compare it to. It provides a very different type of genetic testing platform to those offered by bigger sites like 23andMe, Ancestry, or Family Tree DNA, and at present is aimed towards a different consumer. If you’re looking for serious genealogical, carrier-status, or health-related information, we recommend that you look elsewhere, as Helix does not yet feature any products that realistically compare to the bigger, more well known companies in terms of scope and accuracy. However, this may well change as the popularity of the platform grows and as the list of Helix’s partner companies gets longer. For now, the available offerings are mostly expensive lifestyle, nutrition and fitness-related products that can provide you with little in the way of definitive scientific information.