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If you unwrap a gift next week and it turns out to be a genetic DNA test kit, what have you really opened? How much can that test tell you about your future health or who your parents really are?
Not as much as you might think, according to Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta.
Caulfield has taken two direct-to-consumer genetic tests — 23andme and AncestryDNA. He learned he’s Irish and that his earwax is wet, not dry. There was no information about which version is preferable.
Caulfield was also told that if he eats asparagus he will likely be able to smell the metabolite in his urine — something he presumably didn’t need a genetic test to reveal.
He also learned he has a higher risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer. But even that doesn’t tell him much, since his risk of both diseases is still very low.
What should he do with this information?
The personalized advice he received is what he already knows — eat a healthy diet, live a healthy lifestyle — advice most people won’t take no matter what their DNA test results reveal.
“The whole idea is that this information is empowering,” Caulfield said. “But research has shown that people don’t change their behaviour based on this kind of information.”
What about the risk of revealing dark family secrets, such as learning your real father is not who you thought? Caulfield said it would take some additional genetic sleuthing.
“It would have to be a bit of ancestry information that doesn’t make sense based on the family story….