23&Me and uBiome


I was so excited to try 23&Me and uBiome, thinking they’d give me some new insight into what I needed to get things back on track. They warn you that they’re not intended to diagnose, but I was as discouraged by that as I am by “may contain nuts” on a bag of cookies. However, I found them both a bit disappointing.

23&Me offers ancestry information alone for a reduced price, but for the genetic data you need to purchase the full package. With DNA sequencing, you can look at as much of the genome as you want, but you’re looking at every gene in that sequence. Sequencing your entire genome would involve a massive amount of data, so 23&Me genotypes instead. That means they jump straight to the genes with the most common variants, but they aren’t looking at everything. Let’s say there are 18 genes known to be associated with illness X and they only check 5 of them. How do you know you’re getting an accurate picture? You can send your saliva to 23&Me and a couple other genotyping companies and one will say you’re at high risk, one will say moderate risk, and the other will say low risk, because each is genotyping different genes.

These services also only give you the raw data. You then have to pay a bit more for a health report from sites like Livewello and Promethease. Then you realize you still don’t have a clear oversight – you have to know which specific genes to look for! I found a list of mutations associated with histamine intolerance/ mast cell disorder and I’d say the only thing I got out of that was the realization that it didn’t necessarily have to be MTHFR or DAO deficiency, it could also be that both are only operating at half power.

There are a lot of other fascinating tidbits in there like how likely you are to have curly hair, earwax, develop addictions (including having a sweet tooth) or mood or attention disorders, your appearance, intelligence, personality, which really make you wonder how much of who you are is within your control. But then there are other bits that don’t match – like it says you don’t tolerate a certain drug, but you do and vice versa so then how much stock can you really put in predicted risk for developing certain diseases? You’ve also got to consider how stress, diet, exercise, and environment play into it all. It’s really impossible to say anything for sure.

Then, on top of all the genes you don’t get genotyped, there are tons of genes included that we don’t currently have any information on, because this is still fairly new and uncharted territory. You really need a geneticist to interpret the results for you and then they could test specifically for the genes they want to look at and do a more thorough analysis of the relevant sequences.

Lastly, some are concerned about the co-founder of 23&Me being married to the co-founder of Google and worried that the information could later be made available to employers or used for some other subversive purpose.

As for uBiome, I (and others) got their results months later than expected, someone mentioned that his doctor had sent them two identical samples and gotten different results, and (again) you can’t really do much with the results. I plan to continue sending samples in to see how things change over time, but there’s also no way of knowing for sure what causes certain changes.

So, overall I’d say you might as well save your money, if things are tight, even though it can be fun if you’ve got the funds to spare. I wanted to test for allergies and enzymes and, even though doctors told me the tests were highly inaccurate, it wasn’t until I’d tried them for myself that I accepted that they really weren’t accurate. Similarly, I just had to try this for myself and there was a certain thrill that came along with it, just like the one you get when buying new supplements to try, hoping this’ll finally be the one to turn it all around, but sadly I can’t say I recommend them as a fix.





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