23andMe Review

23andMe is perhaps the most recognizable name in the home DNA tests industry. The company, named after the 23 chromosome pairs in humans, essentially founded the direct-to-consumer-genetic-tests when it was opened shop some 12 years ago.

23andMe genetic testing serving clients in the USA, Canada and the UK, among others. The company boasts an astonishing number of 5m users to date. Read our comprehensive 23andMe review to learn more about what exactly is 23andMe, what the company offers, how much 23andMe cost and get our editorial opinion about them.

23andMe Pros and Cons

If you don’t want to read through our comprehensive 2000+ word 23andme review all the way through, you are welcomed to read our simple pros and cons below:

23andMe Pros

  • Industry veteran
  • Customers are overall content
  • Very comprehensive results
  • Very large database
  • Most diverse options

23andMe Cons

  • Not the cheapest
  • A bit too versatile
  • Inaccurate advertising (1,500 regions advertised)

Our Rating: 96.2%

✓ Best Health Results
✓ Most Diverse Test Kit
✓ Best Value for Money
✓ Top 3 – Ancestry

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23andMe Review’s Essential Data

Can be used for Genetic overview for health/fitness purposes, ancestry
DNA collection Saliva sample
Number of SNPs tested 630132.00
DNA sample stored? Yes
Availability Most countries
Price $200 or equivalent
Platform matching for family Yes
Geographical analysis of ancestry Yes
Special features Ancestry analysis, Neanderthal % in ancestry
Number of users 5000000.00
Ownership Privately held by various investors, particularly Anne Wojcicki, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., The Roche Venture Fund, Google Ventures, and New Enterprise Associates
Address 899 W. Evelyn Ave., Mountain View, CA 94041
Website Address www.23andme.com and local websites: www.23andMe.ca and www.23andme.co.uk
Client reviews 3,000+ available on Bazaarvoice with 4/5 rating; Over 450 reviews on Trustpilot with rating of 1.5/5

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Company background for 23andme

23andMe is in a unique position in the direct to customer DNA test kits being the pioneer and being significantly larger than its competitors. The company was founded in April 2006 and has been growing at a staggering pace up to 500 users.

The company has raised close to $500m in capital since its inception including a round of $250m, followed by a consecutive round of $300m, and it is projected that it is valued in close to 2.6bn dollars. The founders of 23andMe Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Anne Wojcicki are still heavily involved in the company.  Anne Wojcicki is the CEO and has been voted one of the top 100CEOs of Glassdoor.

Anne Wojcicki at GES 2016

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23andMe Genetic Testing and the FDA

When 23andMe and other competitors starting operating in the direct genetic testing for consumers space, there was no regulation whatsoever in this space. It was a very niche product. The average person didn’t know and/or did not care much about 23andMe pros and cons and their results. Over the course of time, as home DNA kits were gaining popularity, the FDA started to show concerns about what howe 23andMe was marketing their disease risk tests. So, the FDA issued 23andMe a shutdown notice, telling them to stop offering their disease risk test for breast cancer because they were overmarketing the potential results.

Eventually, 23andMe altered its marketing materials and were again approved to sell disease risk tests. However, you should be aware that the FDA only regulates how companies market these tests. The BRCA test, for example, only searches for 3 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that are typically only present within the Ashkenazi Jewish population. According to a recent study, 23andMe’s BRCA test misses other potentially dangerous mutations in 94% of people that take the test.

BRCA Risks – Do NOT Use 23andMe for that Purpose

So, a negative result simply tells you that you do not have a few specific mutations, not that you have a lowered risk of getting breast cancer in general. Further, a positive test does not mean you will absolutely get breast cancer. Both outcomes have led to negative health outcomes. For instance, some women receiving positive test results have had unnecessary mastectomies, while those receiving negative results sometimes stop getting regular cancer screenings. Neither of these is a reasonable reaction to the test results. This is an important distinction to understand, and the same is true of most disease risk analyses.

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23andMe’s full offering review

23andMe has only two offerings, the Ancestry Service and the Health + Ancestry Service. The Ancestry Service provides only information on ancestry information, such as your geographical genomic profile. The Health and Ancestry Service provides insights into genes related to health and wellness. The details of each package are below:

Ancestry Service

The Ancestry Service includes 2 main features. The first feature is your personalized Ancestry Reports. This test includes 5 reports which detail your general Ancestry Composition, your Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups, your Neanderthal Ancestry, and Your DNA Family. The first report is based on the similarities found in your Autosomal DNA to known genotypes. Your maternal and paternal haplogroups are measured through your mtDNA and Y-DNA, respectively. If you contain any traces of Neanderthal DNA, it will be found in the fourth report. The final report details which groups of people you share DNA with.

The second main feature of the Ancestry Service is the DNA Relative Finder. This entirely optional service allows your DNA to be matched to 23andMe’s database of millions of customers. Using this service, the company finds close and distant relatives. It even allows you to connect with these relatives, if they have also opted into the program. With the Ancestry Service, you get access to your raw data which you can use with a variety of third-party companies.

The Ancestry Service is usually $99, but is currently on sale for $79. This includes a lifetime subscription to the platform. Also, if you later decide to get your Health reports, you can purchase this service later for an additional $125. We sometimes offer 23andMe discount codes or coupons. Be sure to look for those every once in a while.

Health + Ancestry Service

This service includes all of the reports detailed in the Ancestry Service (above), plus a wide variety of health and medical genetics reports. There are 4 basic categories reports fall into: Genetic Health Risk reports, Carrier Status reports, Traits reports, and Wellness reports.

The Genetic Health Risk reports contain information on genes that have been shown to increase your risk of certain diseases. While having these genes can increase your risk of some diseases, the nature of SNP testing does not allow for an accurate analysis of your overall disease risk. That being said, 23andMe does offer some of the only FDA approved tests for finding these genetic variants. There are currently 5 of these reports available, with more on the way.

The Carrier Status report shows if your genetics have markers indicating you are a carrier for certain genetic diseases. These diseases, like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, are only triggered when a person has both copies of the disease-causing gene. Though you would know if you had one of these conditions, this report will tell you which, if any, genetic variants you may carry.

The Trait report details genes you carry which relate to certain traits you have, such as male-pattern baldness and the ability to grow a unibrow. This report documents your genetics for over 25 traits. The Wellness reports include information on your genetics related to general health, such as sleep, weight, and food advice. These reports contain a variety of general healthy habits, and are tailored to your “genetic profile”.

The Health + Ancestry Service is typically $199, though it is currently on sale for $139. The service also allows you access to your raw data. Purchasing this package will save you around $50, if you purchased the Ancestry Service first, then later wanted access to the Health Reports. 23andMe coupons and discount codes are sometimes available on our website. Be sure to check it when you finish reading this 23andMe review.

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What separates between 23andMe and other companies in that regard?

The wide variety of genetic tests offered by 23andMe is largely unmatched by other testing companies. Through a 23andMe DNA test, you can receive tests on your genetic health risk factors, your carrier status for certain diseases, and even trait reports and general wellness reports. 23andMe is aiming to be the go-to service for direct-to-consumer genetic testing, however, it is not yet available worldwide.

23andMe, owned in part by Google, provides one of the most user-friendly platforms for understanding your genetic results. Through this online platform, you receive various reports about your genetics. If you purchase the Ancestry results as well as the Health package, you will have access to ancestry information as well. The platform includes many tools, including ones to connect with genetic family members and discover your geographic ancestry.

Though many genetic companies are ancestry-based, 23andMe can also review a significant number of medical and health-related traits. In their health package, they test a large number of genes related to the disease. 23andMe DNA tests are one of the only genetic tests to have FDA approval on some of the company’s tests. While this doesn’t increase the accuracy or predictive power of the tests, it does suggest that the company will not present you with false information or overplay the role of genetics in any disease.

Through their platform, you can look at your genetic health risks, carrier status for diseases like cystic fibrosis, and even traits known to be determined genetically. 23andMe results also provide a wellness report, which gives generalized advice based partially on your genetics.

Like other companies, a collection tube is sent to your house for your saliva. Spit in the tube, and send it back to the lab. Within your spit will be enough cheek cells to analyze your DNA. The laboratory receives your sample, and takes 4-6 weeks to process it and provide you with 23andMe test results.

In analyzing your DNA, 23andMe uses technology that scans your DNA for known single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs. Checking hundreds of thousands of these SNPs, they match your genetics with known genotypes that match yours. This allows them to approximate with great accuracy, your exact genome without actually reading the whole thing. Though your whole genome is not sequenced (every nucleotide is not read), the genes you carry can be determined by the small matching pieces.

Depending on whether you selected the Health and Ancestry package, or opted for the Ancestry package alone, you will get access to these reports once the lab has processed your DNA sample. Simple login to the online platform and view your results.

View comparison – 23andMe Vs AncestryDNA

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How it works, what will your 23andMe kit include?

Like other companies, a collection tube is sent to your house for your saliva. Spit in the tube, and send it back to the lab. Within your spit will be enough cheek cells to analyze your DNA. The laboratory receives your sample and takes 6-8 weeks to process it and provide you with 23andMe test results.

In analyzing your DNA, 23andMe uses technology that scans your DNA for known single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs. Checking hundreds of thousands of these SNPs, they match your genetics with known genotypes that match yours. This allows them to approximate with great accuracy, your exact genome without actually reading the whole thing. Though your whole genome is not sequenced (every nucleotide is not read), the genes you carry can be determined by the small matching pieces.

Depending on whether you selected the Health and Ancestry package, or opted for the Ancestry package alone, you will get access to these reports once the lab has processed your DNA sample. Simple login to the online platform and view your results.

Geographic regions, backed by reference panels

45 regions

Ancestry Reports

Basically, your ancestry reports will provide several types of information about your genetic ancestry. First, the company analyzes your autosomal DNA and compares it to 45 global regions. In these regions, 23andMe has identified groups of people known as “reference panels” or “reference populations”. These are people from families that have been in an area for many generations. By comparing your DNA to these reference panels, 23andMe can provide an “ethnicity estimate” based on what regions you match to the most. They will give you a percentage breakdown of how much DNA you have likely inherited from their 42 different regions.

The company claims on its website to match you to “over 1,500 different regions”, though they do this through a much different method. Essentially, they use a technique developed in population genetics to group large subsets of users together, based on how much DNA they share. Using this and outside information, they then assign these subsets to “regions” that are much more recent than regions backed by reference panels. Some companies call these groups “communities”, and they cannot be assigned a percentage basis of your ethnicity. You can learn more in our article on [Communities vs Regions].

With 23andMe, you will also get a fun “Neanderthal Ancestry” report, that looks to see if you have any genes that are known to have been present in Neanderthal populations. Once thought to be a completely separate species, Neanderthals and humans are now known to have interbred quite a bit. 23andMe will also analyze your mtDNA and Y-DNA, and through this analysis, they can tell you which maternal and paternal lines you are a part of, which go back nearly 100,000 years. You can also use your DNA matches on the DNA platform, and connect to living family members around the world.

Genetic Health Risk Reports

You will find a number of reports on the 23andMe platform. The first is the Genetic Health Risk Reports, which explains which genes you carry that give you an increased risk for certain diseases. These genetic risks are based on researched associations between disease and genetics. While these reports can give you a small insight into which conditions you may be more likely to contract, they are by no means a diagnosis. Many of these associations increase your risk, but not by much.

Carrier Status Reports

In addition to checking your genetic risks, the platform provides Carrier Status Reports. A carrier is a person who carries 1 disease-causing allele. However, because there are 2 alleles for each gene, a carrier also has a regular, functioning allele. This allows them to live disease-free, but they still carry the deficient allele and have the chance of passing it on to their children. There are many recessive disorders for which you can be a carrier. 23andMe tests for many of these. This report can give you a heads up about which conditions you might carry, and help you plan a family. Their very comprehensive results is one of 23andMe important pros.

Polygenic Risk Reports

23andMe recently started offering Polygenic Risks Reports as a part of its service and we wrote about it in length.

Trait Reports

Your Trait Reports will include information about your genetics which influences certain traits you have. Some of these traits may seem irrelevant, but they are associations which have been researched. Many of these traits are also controlled by a single gene, such as the ability to taste the bitter chemicals in broccoli and asparagus. Though you likely already know if you have the gene, this report can inform you which of your genes help control certain traits. This is a separate report because the information is typically not medical in any way.

Wellness Reports

The set of reports you can access are Wellness Reports, which will give you insights about how your unique genetics may be affecting your overall wellbeing. These include topics like sleep, weight, and muscle composition. These reports tell you how your genetics may affect these highly variable categories, though your genetics play only a small role. For instance, your body may have a genetic propensity to store fat, but you will only get fat if you eat too much and never exercise. These reports end with generic recommendations for better health “based on your genetics”. These include things like having a good diet and exercising regularly.

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Will your data be shared?

23andMe has a whole page devoted to their privacy policies, and what they will do with your genetic data. The company does sell and distribute aggregated data. First, they strip the data of personally identifying information, then amass it together. 23andMe aggregate data is then sold and researched.

Your personal data is supposedly under your control, and the company offers many different services you can opt out of if you don’t want to share any data. Some of these features include searching for relatives on the platform, which requires you to share the information if you choose to contact a relative. You can use most features of the platform without sharing your personal information. The platform also allows you to opt out of your data being stored, if you so choose.

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Media coverage and user opinions

23andMe has expanded drastically in recent years, as has its media coverage. Articles on the company are published weekly, if not daily when there is big news. As one of the first companies to receive FDA approval for a direct-to-consumer genetic test (shortly after receiving a warning from the FDA) the company is no stranger to making headlines. Here are some of the more interesting articles about 23andMe in mainstream media:

User acceptance:

According to their own website, their customers are satisfied with 4 of 5 stars.  Most of the customers give them 5 stars, with a smaller percentage distributed between all of the other star levels. On Amazon, with 1,000+ 23andMe reviews, 23andMe is rated 3.8/5 stars (true for Dec 9, 2018). 57% of the users thought the service deserves of 5 stars, but 20% thought it deserves of 1 star rating. Users who are happy with 23andMe have mentioned the following strong points:

  1. High level of security and data protection
  2. Easy to sign up and conduct the test
  3. Best ethnic origin analysis (more accurate than other companies)
  4. Relative identification tests are available, unlike other companies
  5. Medical analysis by Promethease is really outstanding and provides a great deal of information
  6. The test can, in fact, help you solve family mysteries
  7. Comfortable pricing at $99
  8. Very understandable and diverse results
  9. Provides useful and practical medical advice (preventive measures, mainly)

Clients who gave 23andMe a low rating discussed the following aspects of the business:

  1. Sometimes, the collection tube doesn’t yield any DNA results and you have to repeat the test. If you failed twice, you cannot use the service anymore.
  2. Sometimes, there are long waiting times with little response on their behalf on the source of delay
  3. Sometimes, they request extra fees on top of what you paid (unclear in which scenario, not stated)
  4. Customer service can be slow and unhelpful
  5. Genetic mutation indications are not accurate 100% of the time
  6. Some packages/kits aren’t clear in terms of what they contain

There are also some 23andMe reviews on TrustPilot and Yelp, but they are not worth delving into because it’s only several dozen reviews in comparison to the 1,000 on Amazon.

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23andMe Review: Executive Summary
  • Reputation and credibility - 90%
  • Depth of offeirng - 100%
  • For health testing - 99%
  • For ancestry testing - 95%
  • Quality of results - 97%

Summary of our findings

23andMe is a very diverse company that excels on both health and genealogy tests. 23andMe DNA tests are easy to conduct, relatively cheap, and yield a full set of results that other companies aren’t able to produce.

The company is a combination of fun facts about your genetic heritage and body, combined with very important data that could be used for more serious purposes such as identifying genetic risks to certain diseases – A 23andMe kit might be vital for you more than you think. In other words, after analyzing 23andMe pros and cons, this 23andMe review concludes that it is the “real deal” when it comes to at home DNA tests.