23andMe Review 2018: Are Health Reports Worth the Price? 28


23andme now offers two different DNA testing “levels” so to speak. You can get just the basic DNA test that comes with genetic heritage reports, DNA matches, and more for $99 or you can get the basic test plus health related genetic reports for $199. That might leave a lot of you wondering if those genetic health reports are really worth more than double the price. So, let’s take a good look at what you get with each testing option so you can decide for yourself. You can also read a comparison of 23andme’s basic testing level and AncestryDNA’s test right here.

What do you get with the basic 23andme testing level?

The basic 23andme test comes with two main components: genetic heritage and DNA matches.

Genetic Heritage:

Not to be confused with your genealogical heritage, genetic heritage will tell you where your actual genes came from. Confused? Genealogical heritage refers to where the actual people in your family tree were from. (IE, Grandma was from Norway.) Genetic heritage refers to where the DNA you actually have came from. I often tell people to think of their genes like a bag of dice composed of all of their ancestor’s genes (Grandma included). Which of those genes makes up you really depends on a roll of those dice meaning where those genes originated from geologically may also vary from where your recent ancestors were from.

23andme review 201823andme checks 31 primary DNA sample populations broken into 151 sub-categories. The actual regions percents are given for include Western European, British and Irish, French and German, Scandinavian, Finnish, Southern European, Iberian, Sardinian, Italian, Balkin, Eastern European, Ashkenazi, Native American, East Asian, Japanese, Korean, Yukat, Mongolian, Chinese, South East Asian, West African, East African, Central and South African, North African, Middle Eastern, Oceanian, and finally unassigned.

The test will not separate “and” categories. For example, you will get one percentage for “French and German” not one for French and one for German, but these primary regions can be viewed in more detail as a match strength your genes showed to sample sources from individual countries, such as “France” and “Germany.” This strength is not given as a percentage. Below is my full report from this more in-depth section, you reach this report on your results by clicking “See all tested populations.” I’ve included all the regions, even those I had no match for, so that you can see the entire 151 country list. Alternately, here is 23andme’s help page listing their reference populations.

This also gives you a better idea what each region includes. Many are confused by the “Native American” region in particular. Most think of Native American as the tribes we’ve come to know today in North America such as Cherokee or Blackfoot, but 23andme is using data samples from mostly South American countries (which are still native to the Americas). This is because, in 23andme’s own words, “In North America, Native American ancestry tends to be five or more generations back, so that little DNA evidence of this heritage remains.”

Your report will show in a single scroll-able page, the one shown here was created in paint from multiple screenshots for a better page fit on the page (sorry mobile users). The more dots a country has the higher likelihood that you had ancestors from the location. For example, 48.2% of my DNA is “British & Irish” with a strong chance that many of those ancestors were from the United Kingdom rather than Ireland. As you can see, not all percentage regions are able to be broken down into a likely country of origin. In my sample here, 12.8% of my DNA is “French & German,” but 23andme was unable to determine which country that percentage was probably from.

You can also view your results at 5 different levels: 90, 80 or 70 percent conservative or 50 percent speculative. Each of these levels guesses to some degree based on regional samples where segments of your DNA originated and then builds a percentage of your full genome from each area. The default report (pictured above) is set at 50%. To view other settings, visit the main ancestry composition page (the one you clicked “See all tested populations” on) and scroll down until you see, “Your Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting,” then click, “Change confidence level.”
23andme review

This report is only given for the 31 sample regions, not the full 151 country report.. At the bottom of the detailed 151 country report page there is a confidence level selection drop box, but that only affects your raw DNA data file. The first image below is a comparison of the raw DNA files that are used to build the chromosome painting at 50% vs 90%.

I did not include the entire report, because there are 144 cells (the reports are in Excel) and that would make for a very long image, but you get the idea. I included the file names, because the “.5” or “.9” in this case are how you can tell what the report was set at.

23andme review raw download

These images below, on the other hand, are my actual results for 90 percent conservative and 50 percent speculative on the chromosome painting page (I know, it is annoying they are not in the same place). As you can see, the more conservative the guess, the more “broadly” percentages you will get. While the more “speculative” guess will assign higher percentages to actual regions.
23andme review 2018 23andme review 2018

If your parents test on 23andme, your composition will also update based on their results, you can read more on this process here. A comparison of how my results changed when my mother tested are shown below. The visual differences in the report are because the without-parent results are from before 23andme updated and redesigned their site appearance. 23andme review
When viewing your matches you can also compare your DNA side-by-side to your parent, and if one parent has tested but the other hasn’t, a guess will be shown for the second parent’s genetic ancestry (since you get 50% of your DNA from each parent).

Also included on the ancestry composition page is your ancestry timeline. It shows where within your ancestry certain genes were likely to have come from. You can hover over each bar and a pop up will elaborate. As seen below.

ancestry timeline 23andme

Haplogroups:

Moving on to the next report, haplogroups. Everyone gets their maternal haplogroup, males will additionally be given their paternal haplogroup. Haplogroups are groups of genes that are believed to be common to a particular genetic ancestor. This in theory would reveal where the very first person in your genetic line originated from– the birth of your gene line both maternal and paternal. Below are my maternal results. To get my paternal results, my father or brother would need to test. As an added well-that’s-nifty throw in you’re also shown a common ancestor who shares your haplogroup. I got Marie Antoinette!

Neanderthal DNA:

The final genetic heritage section is neanderthal DNA. Here you are told how many of your genes are neanderthal variants. To gauge how high or low this number is you’re also told how much of your DNA is neanderthal and how this compares to other 23andme testers.

23andme review neanderthal

The test also shows four traits common to certain variants and tells you if you have those variants. One for a likelihood of having straight hair, one for a likelihood of sneezing at dark chocolate (this is apparently a thing), one for a lower likelihood of back hair, and finally, one affecting height. You are also ranked against your family and friends (those you have confirmed relation with).

23andme review neanderthal
DNA Relatives:

The other primary component of the basic 23andme DNA test is DNA relatives. This section compares your DNA to all other testers and then provides you matches. Each match lists a probable relation (example, second cousin) as well as the amount of DNA shared.

23andme DNA test match screenThese matches can be searched or sorted by relationship, mom or dad’s side (if your parents have tested), the number of grandparents a match has with the same birthplace, and surname. The surname field also gives a count for each name ranking them from highest to lowest. This is quite helpful to quickly spot likely genetic lines.

When clicking into a match you are given more detail, including common surnames, locations of common ancestors (such as, say, you both said your grandma was from Norway), haplogroups, and genetic heritage. How much is shown depends on how much you and the match have elected to share. This screen also allows you to contact your matches or choose to share more information. Unlike AncestryDNA’s match screen, 23andme regrettably lacks family tree matches.

Ok, now what do you get with the genetic health reports upgrade?

When ordering the $199 test from 23andme, you receive all of the above along with genetic health reports. These reports check for genes known to increase chances for certain conditions or traits. Please keep in mind that having the genetic predisposition for something doesn’t promise it will present itself. For example, my health reports gave me a high chance of being lactose intolerant. I’m not. There are 41 health condition carrier reports, 19 traits reports, and 7 wellness reports. Below is a full list of carrier reports.

23andme DNA Test Traits reports measure your chances of having certain physical traits. These aren’t super vital to most people, as, well, we have eye balls and mirrors, but it is cool to see how much is actually a result of your genes. Trait reports include:

  • Asparagus Odor Detection
  • Back Hair (available for men only)
  • Bald Spot (available for men only)
  • Bitter Taste Perception
  • Cheek Dimples
  • Cleft Chin
  • Earlobe Type
  • Earwax Type
  • Eye Color
  • Finger Length Ratio
  • Freckles
  • Hair Curliness
  • Light or Dark Hair
  • Male Hair Loss (available for men only)
  • Newborn Hair Amount
  • Photic Sneeze Reflex
  • Red Hair
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Sweet Taste Preference
  • Toe Length Ratio
  • Unibrow
  • Widow’s Peak

Each report gives more detail on your likelihood of having each trait and how that compares to other users of a similar background.

23andme review DNA

Wellness reports on the other hand look at lifestyle and health-related traits, such as the before mentioned lactose intolerance, as well as alcohol flush reaction, caffeine consumption, deep sleep, sleep movement, muscle composition, saturated fat, and weight.

Is it worth the money for the genetic health reports?

Sadly, 23andme must not realize you can pay for the standard test, download your raw DNA, and get health reports for $12 from Promethease. Worse, the Promethease report is far more detailed albeit more complicated and not FDA approved. What little 23andme told me matched what was in my Promethease report (23andme actually contributes to the database Promethease uses), but the Promethease report had thousands of matches (over 22,000). Below are a few screen cuts from my report back in 2015, as you can see, they flagged genes for all sorts of stuff.

promethease promethease DNA health report

Even the updated Neanderthal info was on Promethease, but more genes were flagged.

Personally, I would not pay $199 for what I could get for $99+ $12 just to have it look pretty. Whether or not you would is up to you.

Promethease also redesigned their reports sometime between my original running in 2015 and now, so I paid again just to review their “prettier” report for you (results do not stay online forever, but can be downloaded). You can read our in-depth Promethease review here.

Remember that at 23andme every additional test you purchase is 10% off and shipping is combined, so you could save by finding others who would like to test and do a group order. 23andme is also now on Amazon Prime (basic test and genetics health reports version). If you want just one test, you can save on shipping this way.

I do hope this has helped you reach a decision between the $99 23andme DNA test and the $199 23andme genetic health reports test. If you have any questions or would like to see something added to this 23andme DNA test review and comparison, please let me know.


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28 thoughts on “23andMe Review 2018: Are Health Reports Worth the Price?

  • Bonnie McBurney

    First of all, thank you for this review. I’m still on the fence as to which company to use. I was adopted when I was born. I never knew my birth parents. A few years ago, I found out who my birth mother was but she was already deceased. I have no clue as to who my birth father might be. My birth mother’s family never knew who my father was either. I’m not even sure my birth mother knew. I was initially leaning toward 23andMe because of the health reports it provided. Now that I know I can access that information from Promethease, that now leaves me with the decision as to which one would be best for me to do in search of a possible connection to my birth father. I’m thinking from what you’ve said, that would probably be AncestryDNA, but I would love to know your opinion.

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      I would start at Ancestry, simply because it’s so much easier to find how a match relates to you there. Your best bet is to start building a tree, enter everything you know about your birth mother and then try to find out more. Cross your fingers for a high DNA match,and message them with your date of birth and your mother’s name. I’d also upload your raw DNA to GEDcom and if you get stuck between those two, then maybe test at 23andme too.

  • Kourtnie

    Thank you for writing this. Didn’t know about Promethease until I found your post. Huzzah for researching, and hurray for finding an awesome blogger during my research!

  • Sarah

    Just wanted to thank you so much for this post!!!!! I lost my job awhile back and I’m a single mom. Saving money is important to me but I was interested in 23 and me bc they have 20 % off right now!!!! I was debating on getting the ancestry test for $79 or the health along with ancestry for $159 but I had no idea about this site promethease! I can’t go wrong with paying only $5!!!!! And it’s more detailed! You really helped me out! Thanks

  • Damian

    It sounds like Promethease can replicate (or improve upon) anything that 23andme can provide in the health report, including carrier genes, but does it or anything else provide the information on the (somwhat-goofy) traits like chin dimples, sneezing in sunlight, etc., that 23andme provides?

    • unwirklich admin

      Everything that 23andme provides is also on promethease, the two actually seem to share data as some of the info I got in my report was provided by 23andme research. The main difference is that promethease has more data, but is less user friendly (it’s a huge amount of data to look through). 23andme’s health reports are more focused and easy to process.

    • unwirklich admin

      I’m sorry, it has been a long time since I read mine and once they expire online the offline copy you can download isn’t the same (it has more like files you can open). However, a quick google of “promethease tutorial” brought up some videos and links for me. This one is pretty good for example:

  • Pam Taylor

    My father is deceased but his brother is still living. Would it be beneficial to have him tested and would his DNA help me determine more about my paternal heritage?

    • unwirklich admin

      You’ll get your paternal heritage in your results, but your brother may have matches you don’t I suppose. Other than that, all his testing would give you extra would be your paternal haplogroup, that is unless he is a half brother. Then his DNA would help you sort matches to paternal/maternal sides.

  • AB

    Note that 23andMe has a $20 off sale now through Feb 14, for either kit, both direct at its website or on Amazon (Prime-eligible). Maybe at Target and CVS also, haven’t checked.

    • unwirklich admin

      That is normal pricing currently yes. When Ancestry DNA runs a sale, it is usually also reflected on Amazon Prime too.

  • Christy Lopez

    My father was adopted, as a baby. I am a female with two children, wanting to know my ethnicity from my father. I was looking into ancestry DNA but just heard about 23andme. Which of the two would you suggest for me? Thank you!

    • unwirklich admin

      I would say AncestryDNA. The heritage profiles for both tests are based on genes, so if you want to know your actual genealogical heritage, you’ll need to build a family tree and find out where your family really came from. In my opinion, that’s a lot easier at AncestryDNA.

      Right now there aren’t any coupons, so Amazon is cheapest at $99 with free shipping. It’s the same price via the ancestry site, but you have to pay $10.95 shipping. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you aren’t in a hurry, they seem to do coupons every month or two, usually 10-20% off.