23andMe Review 2020 - One of the Best for Ancestry and Health?

Our score:
9.6
User score:
9.6

Expert opinion:

23andMe provides three paths (its three DNA tests) to one destination – you! When you take one of the combined tests for ancestry and health, you get 50+ ancestry reports, 10+ health predisposition reports, 5+ wellness reports, 40+ carrier status reports, and 30+ trait reports. Sounds good, but does it stack up against the increasing competition? I set out to test this DNA tester.
Written by Moss Stern
Last updated on May 25, 2020
  • Ancestry
  • Health & Wellness
Written by Moss Stern on May 25, 2020
  • Ancestry
  • Health & Wellness

Three Paths, One Destination

Having read up a little on DNA, I had pondered three questions for some time:

  1. What could my DNA tell me about my family history?
  2. How might my genes influence my appearance, tastes, and behavior?
  3. Do I want to know if my DNA puts me at risk of certain genetic diseases?

23andMe aims to answer these questions, with its “Three paths. One destination. You.” 23andMe Review I set out to test 23andMe’s services, to see if it deserves to be one of the top ancestry and health DNA testing companies alongside MyHeritage and AncestryDNA. It was certainly one of the first on the market, but does that make it one of the best?

See 23andMe Deals

Taking the Tests

The test kit is the same no matter which test you take. The box contains an instruction pamphlet, a sample collection tube (with a handy built-in funnel and a cap), and a plastic envelope to contain the tube. You should follow the sample collection instructions provided, but I can summarize them as:

  • Create an account on the 23andMe website, and add the serial number of your collection kit.
  • Make sure you don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes before spitting enough saliva to fill up the sample collection tube.
  • Finally, break off the funnel, screw on the cap, put the tube into the plastic envelope, and send it back in the postage-paid box.

23andMe Review It’s supposed to take up to four weeks to receive your results, but I got mine in a little over a week. In the meantime, a series of emails told me how my test was progressing.

A Detailed Look at 23andMe’s Ancestry Test

Many DNA testing companies only analyze your autosomal DNA, which you get from both your father and mother. A few companies, such as 23andMe, also analyze your Y chromosome (if you’re a man) and your mitochondrial DNA (whatever sex you are) to trace your paternal and maternal family lines, respectively. 23andMe’s ancestry test is called the Ancestry + Traits Service, so you get information on your genetically-determined characteristics as well as your heritage and ethnicity: 23andMe Review Let’s look at the components of the online report, one by one, which you can also get in the form of a very affordable printed book.

Ethnicity Report

The first section of your 23andMe ancestry report looks at the regional and ethnic composition of your forebears. In my case, it tells me that my ancestors were 48.4% Ashkenazi Jewish, 18.7% French and German, 12.5% Eastern European, and about 2% Southeast Asian. The latter wasn’t a total surprise since I’d already heard rumors about Javanese ancestry on my mother’s side of the family. 23andMe Review You’ll be interested to hear that the ethnicity report has evolved since I first received my results, to include 500 additional geographic regions for greater detail when pinpointing your ancestral roots. By comparison, whereas 23andMe distinguishes more than 1,500 potential ancestry regions around the world, AncestryDNA distinguishes 500+ regions, and MyHeritage DNA distinguishes only 42 ethnic regions. One word of warning: greater detail doesn’t necessarily mean greater accuracy. Some 23andMe customers have complained about their heritage reports being inconsistent with known facts about their family backgrounds, but other customers (including me) have found the results to be spot-on.

Ancestry Timeline

This novel section, which I haven’t seen elsewhere, shows how many generations ago my most recent ancestor from each ethnicity was alive: 23andMe Review

Chromosome Painting

Another relatively novel feature that I haven’t seen elsewhere is “chromosome painting,” which shows the ethnicities that are reflected in each of your 23 chromosome pairs: 23andMe Review Did you know that you, me, and most people with European or Asian descent might be part-caveman? That is to say, you might have some Neanderthal DNA from your very distant past. According to my results, I’m about 4% Neanderthal, and my 291 Neanderthal variants put me in the top 25% (or bottom 25%, depending on how you look at it) of 23andMe customers.

Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups

By analyzing your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-DNA – which some companies don’t do – 23andMe can trace your maternal (mother’s side) and paternal (father’s side) family lines. Your “haplogroup” on each side tells you the major group of ancestors you’re descended from, and where that group came from. For example, although scientists know that we’re all descended from a woman who lived in eastern Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, 23andMe tells me that my maternal haplogroup “H2” means I’m descended from a woman who lived in the Middle East about 12,000 years ago: 23andMe Review My paternal haplogroup “J” can trace its lineage all the way back to haplogroup “A,” which originated in Africa over 275,000 years ago. 23andMe provides maps to show you these migrations of ancestral groups: 23andMe Review So, 23andMe tells you about your long-lost ancestors, but what about your more recent relatives?

DNA Relatives

The DNA Relatives section identifies other people in 23andMe’s database who may be related to you. Supposedly, I have 1,191 potential living relatives I can connect to, three of whom are close family: 23andMe Review You can connect with these individuals if you wish, and if they’re willing. You can also access their ancestry reports, and vice versa, to help you both build a more extensive family tree.

Your Family Tree

At the time of this review, 23andMe also has a beta family tree builder that creates a family genealogy based on your matches with the company’s other customers. Mine is mostly populated with question marks, but I’ve manually added my parents and linked in a second cousin, once removed: 23andMe Review This Family Tree Builder isn’t as sophisticated as the pay-for ones provided by competitor companies such as MyHeritage and Ancestry, which fill in the blanks with information from their vast historical databases. Interested in creating a family tree? Check out our top family tree builders here.

How 23andMe’s Ancestry Test Compares to Other Companies’ Tests

Having taken ancestry tests with the main competitor companies, I can declare 23andMe the clear winner in terms of the accuracy and the level of detail contained in its reports. The biggest downside is the lack of a genealogy service that would help you build your family tree by drawing on historical archives in addition to your DNA. If you want this, and you’re willing to pay a subscription for it, you might want to look at MyHeritage or AncestryDNA.

See 23andMe Deals

Other Ancestry Test Options to Consider

  • Living DNA’s ancestry test gives you a comparable amount of ancestry information, and it includes mtDNA and Y-DNA analysis, but it doesn’t detail your Neanderthal ancestry.
  • AncestryDNA and MyHeritage both give you less ancestry information than 23andMe, and only test autosomal DNA, but draw from vast databases of historical records (at an extra cost) to help you build a family tree.
  • HomeDNA sells separate autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA ancestry tests. It also offers special test kits for people of African or Asian descent.

Upgrade from Ancestry to a Health Report for Not Much More

Ancestry
Ancestry
  • Discover your ancestry composition from more than 1,000 regions
  • Find DNA relatives around the globe and connect with them
  • Learn the migration story of your DNA ancestors

As already indicated, 23andMe offers three tests: the Ancestry + Traits Service, the Health + Ancestry Service, and the VIP Health + Ancestry Service. You can pay for them in US dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds, or euros via Visa, other credit cards, or Apple Pay.

Ancestry + Traits Service

Here are some comparisons between 23andMe and its competitors from a pricing point of view:

Health + Ancestry Service

If you’ve already received an ancestry report from 23andMe, you can buy a health report for not much more money, and without having to submit another DNA sample. Now, here are the price comparisons for this service:

VIP Health + Ancestry Service

This allows two people to be tested, which is interesting for two reasons:

  1. Since a woman can’t take a Y-DNA test, she must ask a male biological relative to take one to trace her paternal ancestral line.
  2. If you’re planning to have children with someone, you may wish to know if you’re both carriers for the same genetic disease risks that could be passed on to your offspring.

You may wonder why it costs more than twice as much as two standard Health + Ancestry test kits. Apparently, it’s because you get “priority lab processing, premier customer support, and a one-on-one Ancestry results walkthrough.” I’m just not convinced it’s worth this cost.

See 23andMe Deals

Fine for Me, Despite Complaints from Some Other Customers

23andMe’s self-service resources include a set of support pages and some frequently asked questions. If these don’t answer all your questions, you can contact the company via email (contact form), telephone, or live chat.

I successfully tested 23andMe’s live chat facility (which isn’t provided by many other vendors) and its email response: 23andMe ReviewI’d read some customer complaints about 23andMe purging customers’ information after a period of time, but the customer service team assured me by telephone and rapid-response email that this wasn’t the case. The only thing I can attribute this to is the fact that 23andMe redesigned its website experience in 2017, and informed customers that, “all of your current health reports will be permanently archived in a printable PDF format.”

Other customer complaints I’ve seen relate to the company claiming that saliva samples didn’t contain enough DNA for analysis. These customers had to send in multiple samples, sometimes to no avail, and they were unable to obtain refunds.

My Favorite DNA Testing Service To Date

As I’ve alluded all along, of the ones I’ve tested to date, 23andMe is my favorite DNA testing service. Both its ancestry and health reports provided more information than most other companies at a lower cost.

Finally, I enjoyed a more than satisfactory support experience despite some customer complaints to the contrary. That said, if you’re solely interested in taking a DNA test for health information, it might be worth looking at another vendor – such as DNAfit or Helix – since 23andMe only offers this information as part of a packaged deal.

By going with another company, you can get a similar level of information (or more) without having to pay for the ancestry results. On the other hand, if you’re really interested in exploring your genealogy, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage can offer much more in the way of historical records and family tree building services. Although, you’ll probably have to pay a subscription fee.

I recommend going with 23andMe if you are looking for a good all-round comprehensive package that can offer you a bit of everything. The results are a good balance of fun information and actionable insights.

See 23andMe Deals

FAQ

How accurate is 23andMe?

23andMe’s ancestry reports are extremely accurate. The company has 10 million customers it can compare your DNA to, representing more than 1,000 distinct global populations. This allows 23andMe to estimate your ethnicities with a high level of precision and tell you how many generations ago each ethnicity entered your family tree. 23andMe’s health test looks for certain genetic markers known to be associated with your risk of getting certain diseases in your lifetime, or for carrying other diseases and passing them on to your children. While the company’s analysis of these markers is quite reliable, having a given genetic marker doesn’t mean you will get the associated disease, and not having that marker doesn’t mean you won’t. It gives you a clue as to your level of risk. If you want more certainty, you should discuss your results with your doctor.

What is 23andMe’s privacy policy?

23andMe will not sell, lease, or rent your personal DNA information to any third parties, public databases, insurance companies, or employers without your consent. Many people are worried that if they get their DNA tested, their results might be used against them – for example, as a basis for denying them employment or health insurance coverage. Or that this could expose them to the risk of identity theft.

Can 23andMe detect and diagnose you with a disease?

23andMe’s health test can find out if your DNA places you at higher genetic risk or having certain diseases, or of being a carrier for certain conditions that you might potentially pass on to your children. However, the test cannot detect or diagnose any diseases you might have. If you are concerned about your DNA results and what they mean for your health, you should discuss this with your doctor, who can give you a better understanding of your level of risk.

How long does it take to receive results from a 23andMe test?

The results of a 23andMe test are typically available within 2-3 weeks after they receive your DNA sample. Our reviewer received his results in just over a week – much faster than expected! 23andMe gives you your results more quickly than most other testing companies. For instance, MyHeritage gives you your results within 3-4 weeks of receiving your sample; AncestryDNA’s results take about 4-6 weeks.

Who should consider taking a 23andMe test?

If you’re interested in learning the most from your ancestry report, you can’t beat 23andMe. Its ancestry report covers many areas not included by most testing companies, including MyHeritage and AncestryDNA – such as which maternal and paternal haplogroups you’re descended from going back hundreds of thousands of years, and how much Neanderthal ancestry you have. Its health test not only tells you if you’re at elevated risk of having certain diseases and carrying others, but also how your DNA may affect your sleep, diet, and exercise, among other genetically influenced traits. By contrast, MyHeritage DNA’s health report only covers your disease and carrier risks. And AncestryDNA covers a much shorter list of disease and carrier risks than the other two. So while 23andMe’s tests are not the least expensive (starting price for the ancestry test is $99.00, the comprehensiveness of their reports will satisfy your curiosity to a greater extent than most other companies’ tests.

A Detailed Look at 23andMe’s Health Test

Health and wellness DNA reports can tell you a lot about your genetic risk of developing certain diseases, or whether you’re a carrier for a congenital condition that could affect your children.

Although there are lots of companies that offer this kind of test, many don’t include the same disease risks and carrier statuses, so you could get information from one that you don’t get from another. Some companies can also tell you if your DNA means (for example) that you’re more likely to consume too much caffeine.

23andMe’s DNA health test is called the Health + Ancestry Service (or VIP Health + Ancestry), which means you can’t get the health information without the ancestry information. The health and wellness report is pretty fascinating. You can:

  • explore your genetic risk for 13 common diseases and your carrier status for 44 different congenital conditions
  • examine how your DNA may shape eight wellness-related factors, and discover 37 physical and behavioral traits determined by your genes
  • access a Health Action Plan with recommendations for better self-care determined by your genes and other factors

23andMe-anmeldelse

I’ll walk you through each of these report elements, but first, an important note about carrier risk.

Having a genetic variant associated with a disease doesn’t mean you definitely have (or will get) that disease. It merely means you’re at a higher risk than most people.

Since people might not want to know some potentially bad news, 23andMe lets you choose to hide some information, such as whether you have the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene variants that put you at a higher risk of breast cancer. In any case, it encourages you to watch tutorials that put this information into perspective.

For me, these are the most important parts of the report, so I did choose to view them. Luckily, I didn’t find anything alarming.

Now, let’s step through the report.

Health Predisposition

The Health Predisposition part of the report explores 13 common DNA-related diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, certain breast cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. Fortunately for me, I have no increased risk for any of these.

23andMe-anmeldelse

If you are at increased risk, the report provides some recommendations for ways to take action, which I found to be fairly obvious and generic.

Carrier Status

The Carrier Status section examines genetic variants for 44 different congenital conditions that you could pass on to your children. Some I’ve heard of, such as sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease, but others – such as D-bifunctional protein deficiency – I read about here for the first time.

23andMe-anmeldelse

My elevated risk of carrying gene variants for tyrosinemia type I was explained in more detail, but the main thing to know is that my children would have a 50% chance of having this disease if my wife also carried the same gene variant. She’s never been tested, but our kids seem fine, so she’s probably not a carrier.

Wellness

The Wellness section lists eight different wellness characteristics that can be affected by genetics, from alcohol flush reaction (common among East Asians) to sleep movement. You might wonder what alcohol flush reaction really has to do with wellness, but I know that this places you at a higher risk of esophageal cancer if you drink too much (although 23andMe doesn’t say so).

Some other interesting insights include how much caffeine you’re likely to consume, as if you didn’t already know. I do drink a lot of coffee, but within the limits that this report recommends:

Wellness

Traits

This section tries to infer 37 different physical traits based on your DNA. Some of them are pretty ridiculous, and some are only moderately meaningful. The report is right about my earlobes, hair loss, dark hair (before it went gray), green eyes, lighter skin. However, it was wrong about my upper back hair and my lack of a bald spot.

23andMe-anmeldelse

As I’m a musician, I got a good laugh out of the fact that I’m “less likely to be able to match a musical pitch” than most people. It just goes to show that genetic traits do not necessarily mean you’ll end up with the predisposition.

Health Action Plan

The Health Action Plan tells you what you need to do to take care of yourself in terms of type 2 diabetes, vaccinations, reproductive and sexual health, heart disease, and cancer. However, I found the otherwise good recommendations to be somewhat generic and not at all tailored to me (other than being aimed at my age group):

23andMe-anmeldelse

How 23andMe’s Health and Traits Test Compares to Other Companies’ Tests

I do like 23andMe’s wellness report, which I found to be more substantial than the health report I got from MyHeritage (for example). However, it doesn’t include customized recipes, nutritional supplement recommendations, and exercise routines that you get from some other companies.

See 23andMe Deals

Other Health Testing Options to Consider

Upgrade from Ancestry to a Health Report for Not Much More

Health & Wellness
Health + Ancestry
  • Explore your genetic disease risk, carrier risk
  • See how your DNA affects diet, exercise, sleep
  • Get a personalized health action plan

As already indicated, 23andMe offers three tests: the Ancestry + Traits Service, the Health + Ancestry Service, and the VIP Health + Ancestry Service. You can pay for them in US dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds, or euros via Visa, other credit cards, or Apple Pay.

Ancestry + Traits Service

Here are some comparisons between 23andMe and its competitors from a pricing point of view:

Health + Ancestry Service

If you’ve already received an ancestry report from 23andMe, you can buy a health report for not much more money, and without having to submit another DNA sample. Now, here are the price comparisons for this service:

VIP Health + Ancestry Service

This allows two people to be tested, which is interesting for two reasons:

  1. Since a woman can’t take a Y-DNA test, she must ask a male biological relative to take one to trace her paternal ancestral line.
  2. If you’re planning to have children with someone, you may wish to know if you’re both carriers for the same genetic disease risks that could be passed on to your offspring.

You may wonder why it costs more than twice as much as two standard Health + Ancestry test kits. Apparently, it’s because you get “priority lab processing, premier customer support, and a one-on-one Ancestry results walkthrough.” I’m just not convinced it’s worth this cost.

See 23andMe Deals

Fine for Me, Despite Complaints from Some Other Customers

23andMe’s self-service resources include a set of support pages and some frequently asked questions. If these don’t answer all your questions, you can contact the company via email (contact form), telephone, or live chat. I successfully tested 23andMe’s live chat facility (which isn’t provided by many other vendors) and its email response: 23andMe Review

I’d read some customer complaints about 23andMe purging customers’ information after a period of time, but the customer service team assured me by telephone and rapid-response email that this wasn’t the case. The only thing I can attribute this to is the fact that 23andMe redesigned its website experience in 2017, and informed customers that, “all of your current health reports will be permanently archived in a printable PDF format.”

Other customer complaints I’ve seen relate to the company claiming that saliva samples didn’t contain enough DNA for analysis. These customers had to send in multiple samples, sometimes to no avail, and they were unable to obtain refunds.

My Favorite DNA Testing Service To Date

As I’ve alluded all along, of the ones I’ve tested to date, 23andMe is my favorite DNA testing service. Both its ancestry and health reports provided more information than most other companies at a lower cost. Finally, I enjoyed a more than satisfactory support experience despite some customer complaints to the contrary.

That said, if you’re solely interested in taking a DNA test for health information, it might be worth looking at another vendor – such as DNAfit or Helix – since 23andMe only offers this information as part of a packaged deal. By going with another company, you can get a similar level of information (or more) without having to pay for the ancestry results.

On the other hand, if you’re really interested in exploring your genealogy, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage can offer much more in the way of historical records and family tree building services. Although, you’ll probably have to pay a subscription fee.

I recommend going with 23andMe if you are looking for a good all-round comprehensive package that can offer you a bit of everything. The results are a good balance of fun information and actionable insights.

See 23andMe Deals

FAQ

How accurate is 23andMe?

23andMe’s ethnicity estimates are extremely accurate. They compare your DNA sample to more than 1,000 different geographical reference populations to pinpoint your ethnicity with a high degree of confidence. All other test findings are considered to be highly accurate as well.

What is 23andMe’s privacy policy?

23andMe will not sell, lease, or rent your personal DNA information to any third parties, public databases, insurance companies, or employers without your consent.

Can 23andMe detect and diagnose you with a disease?

23andMe’s health test can find out if your DNA places you at higher genetic risk or having certain diseases, or of being a carrier for certain conditions that you might potentially pass on to your children. However, the test cannot detect or diagnose any diseases you might have.

How long does it take to receive results from a 23andMe test?

The results of a 23andMe test are typically available within 2-3 weeks after they receive your DNA sample.

Who should consider taking a 23andMe test?

23andMe’s tests are ideal for people who want to receive a lot of accurate information on their ancestry or health. Its ancestry report covers many areas not included by most testing companies, including your maternal and paternal haplogroups and your Neanderthal ancestry. Its health test not only tells you if you’re at elevated risk of having certain diseases and carrying others, but also how your DNA may affect your sleep, diet, and exercise, among other genetically influenced traits.

Moss Stern
Moss Stern
Writer
Moss Stern is a professional writer, amateur musician, voracious fiction reader, recreational bicyclist, cutthroat Scrabble player, and gleeful health and science nerd. He resides in the vicinity of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

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