Early and active treatment of FH can substantially reduce the risk for heart disease. FH treatment focuses on lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and FH is usually treated with cholesterol-lowering medications. Lifestyle modifications, including diet, exercise, and weight control can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. But these changes are generally not enough to effectively manage the condition. In extreme cases of FH, LDL-apheresis, a procedure that filters cholesterol out of the blood, can be used when other treatments have failed.
As it happens, most of the data on 23andMe seems harmless and fun. There are the “Neanderthal variants” (I have fewer of them than 58% of 23andMe customers, thank you very much), the bizarre earwax/earlobes-type data and, apparently, I have the muscle composition generally found in “elite athletes” (fancy). On the downside, my lineage isn’t as exotic as I’d hoped: 99.1% north-western Europe, of which 71% is British/Irish, with just 0.01% “Ashkenazi Jewish” to offset the genetic monotony. At £149, the 23andMe kit isn’t cheap and I’m quite tempted to demand a recount.
Bill Newman, professor of translational genomic medicine in the Manchester centre for genomic medicine at the University of Manchester, and chair of the British Society of Genetic Medicine, says that such tests in this context simply don’t make sense and that, usually, telomere testing would only be used in in-depth studies of ageing and diseases associated with ageing. “There’s some really brilliant work going on, by some of the best biologists in the world,” says Newman, citing Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine for her work on telomeres. “But there’s no evidence whatsoever that measuring a person’s telomeres gives any indication about their health – or beauty, intelligence, or anything else that might be listed on these sites.”
McCartney says that anxious people often contact her, saying they wished they hadn’t done the tests. “These companies often say that it’s worth it for the helpful advice. But I can give you really good advice right now without seeing a single test result: be active, have lots of social networks, do work you enjoy, try not to smoke or drink too much, don’t be overweight or underweight, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Nobody needs to get tests done to get that kind of basic lifestyle advice.”
If you are interested in doing in-depth analysis, the firm offers a chromosome browser, allows raw data to be uploaded, provides support for setting different segment matching thresholds, and allows up to five comparisons to be done at once. Family Tree DNA allows trial transfers from 23andMe and AncestryDNA into its match database; additional transfers of various datasets is available for a fee. The company promises to keep data for 25 years.
Genes make up the blueprint for our bodies, governing factors such as growth, development and functioning. Almost every cell in the human body contains a copy of the blueprint, stored inside a special sac called the nucleus. The estimated 23,000 genes are beaded along tightly bundled strands of a chemical substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These strands are known as chromosomes. Humans have 46 paired chromosomes (half inherited from each parent), with two sex chromosomes that decide gender and 44 chromosomes that dictate other factors. Certain portions of DNA are unique to each individual. DNA profiling is a way of establishing identity and is used in a variety of ways, such as finding out whether twins are fraternal or identical. DNA samples are usually obtained from blood.
Then comes the section about serious genetic variants. So far as “counselling” goes, previously, I’d waved away concern for my psychological welfare from the Observer’s science editor (“I’m a former goth,” I said. “My default setting is ‘doomed’”), but it turns out to be quite daunting. It doesn’t help that I initially mistake the full list of potential conditions for my own results, hence (thankfully briefly) thinking that I have higher risk factors for everything going. It makes me wonder – how many other people are going to do that?
Some services include shipping costs in the cost of the kit; AncestryDNA's $99 fee includes two-way shipping. National Geographic's Genographic Project ships the kits for free, but you have to purchase postage when you send your kit to their lab. 23andMe tacks on a two-way shipping fee of $9.95 for the first kit and $5 for each additional one. HomeDNA includes a prepaid envelope to return your sample and offers three shipping options: $7 for two-day shipping, $14 for overnight, and free shipping that takes 7 to 12 business days. Finally, MyHeritage charges $12 for shipping; if you order two kits, you pay $6, and if you order three or more, you get free shipping.
Y-DNA Tests: Y-DNA testing examines the Y chromosome passed only from father to son and can therefore be used to gain a better understanding of your paternal line. This can be a very interesting study for those focused on surname research, especially since the Y chromosome can give information about deep and recent roots. Because only men carry this chromosome women will need to test their father, brother or other male relation to use this test for genealogy purposes. Again, FTDNA is the leader in this type of testing and has a wealth of information, groups and forums to help.