The DNA tests from 23andMe promise to provide a comprehensive ancestry breakdown as well as a complete picture of your genetic health and wellness, all from a saliva sample.
How does 23andMe dig deeper into your ancestry?
By comparing your DNA to that from over 2,000 reference populations – in some cases right down to the country level – 23andMe can give you an accurate estimate of your heritage.
Plus, if you’re interested in the migration patterns of your more ancient ancestors, 23andMe also analyzes mtDNA and Y-DNA to discover the movements of your maternal and paternal lineages respectively.
What about health?
Your DNA is analyzed for numerous genetic variants that are linked to an increased risk of certain diseases and congenital conditions that can be passed to your children. We looked closely at the features offered, results reports, pricing, support, and more.
The only way to determine if 23andMe could live up to its claims was for me to take the test and find out.
Overall, the ancestry and health tests from 23andMe are a great choice if you’re looking to learn more about your heritage, sub-regional ancestry, and to evaluate your genetic risk for several health conditions.
Plus, you’ll also get DNA matches, wellness reports and insights, and genetic predictions on over 30 physical and sensory traits.
Two Kits that Do It All
23andMe offers two DNA testing options, an Ancestry + Traits test, and a Health + Ancestry test, the latter of which I took myself for the purposes of this review.
As well as the UK and US, 23andMe ships to an additional 50 countries, including across Europe and several Asia Pacific countries.
The DNA tests from 23andMe analyze your DNA to discover your ancestry, find potential relatives through DNA matching, your predisposition to certain traits, and your genetic risk and carrier status for several health conditions.
23andMe also has a membership that includes everything from the Health + Ancestry Kit, plus access to exclusive reports and enhanced ancestry features.
The comparison table below should help you decide which 23andMe service is right for you.
|Ancestry + Traits||Health + Ancestry||23andMe+ Membership|
|Automatic Family Tree Builder||✔||✔||✔|
|Enhanced Ancestry Features||✘||✘||✔|
|Genetic Risk Reports||✘||✔||✔|
|Family Health History Tree||✘||✔||✔|
|Ongoing new reports & Features||✘||✘||✔|
Your Saliva Holds the Key
So you know what to expect from the DNA testing process with 23andMe, I ordered the Health + Ancestry test and was pleased that it arrived in less than a week.
The at-home DNA test kit contains a saliva collection tube with stabilizing fluid, a baggy with a cotton pad to secure your sample, and an instruction booklet.
Before collecting your saliva, you’re reminded to register your kit by heading to the 23andMe website to enter your kit’s unique code and create an account. This allows the lab to determine who the DNA sample belongs to and to post updates on your kit’s progress via your account and email.
The instruction pamphlet makes collecting your samples easy. Just be sure to bear in mind that you’re not to eat, drink, or chew gum for 30 minutes before taking the test to ensure the best quality sample.
Personally, I didn’t particularly enjoy spitting into the collection tube over and over, and it certainly isn’t as quick as swabbing the cheeks as you do with the MyHeritage ancestry test. However, within 5 minutes I had filled the saliva collection tube to the level required, even if I did have a dry mouth at the end of it.
All that’s left to do is stabilize your sample with the vial of fluid provided, and you’re ready to send it to the lab. You ship your sample in the box the kit came in, saving on waste, and shipping is already paid. I simply had to pop it in my nearest postbox and wait for my results to be ready, which takes between 4-6 weeks.
5 Standout Features of 23andMe
Your results from 23andMe include an Ancestry Composition, which is a list of your population percentages arranged in a hierarchy from continental to the regional level. This includes a percentage breakdown of the ethnicities that make up your heritage.
To determine your ancestral breakdown, 23andMe uses an algorithm that analyzes short pieces of DNA that are compared to reference populations made up of thousands of individuals with known ancestry of 45 individual regions and ethnicities.
My Ancestry Compositions show that I am 99.3% European with the remaining 0.6% being Sudanese and North African. The majority of my heritage is British & Irish, with some Scandanavian in there too.
Select any of your ethnicities from the interactive color-coded map to learn more about that particular heritage, how the genetic signature has found its way into your DNA, and DNA matches that share the ethnicity. You can also discover some extensive historical and cultural information, which is great for history buffs.
Dig a little deeper into your report and you can discover your recent ancestry from the last 200 years that can pinpoint your origins at the sub-regional level. They do this by comparing your DNA to that from over 2,000 reference populations, consisting of 400,000 samples.
To be assigned a recent ancestor location, you must share identical DNA segments with groups of people with known ancestry from that location. Your regional ancestry locations are arranged by the strength of probability of recent ancestry. As the research advances and the sample size of the reference groups increases, more regions may be added to your ancestry breakdown in the future.
Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups
The 23andMe haplogroup reports can shed light on the origins and migrations of your ancestors going back tens of thousands of years. Your maternal haplogroup tells you about your maternal-line ancestors and is inherited from your mother’s mtDNA. If you’re male, your paternal haplogroup tells you about your paternal-line ancestors and is inherited from father to son from Y-DNA.
As humans spread out geographically it was reflected in variations in mtDNA and Y-DNA, and by looking at the pattern of variants in present-day populations, they can be used to trace human genetic and migration history. How fascinating!
Everyone can trace their maternal ancestry to a single woman who lived between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, but with maternal and paternal haplogroups you can trace your ancestry to a more recent common ancestor. For example, my maternal haplogroup is H, which indicates I’m descended from a woman who lived in the Middle East 18,000 years ago.
Neanderthals were prehistoric humans who interbred with modern humans, before becoming extinct around 40,000 years ago, but a part of them still remains…in our DNA.
Research suggests that 1-2% of the DNA of all modern humans with Asian, Native American or European ancestry is Neanderthal in origin. You can find out just how much you have with 23andMe’s detailed Neanderthal ancestry report.
My Neanderthal report showed that I have about 2% Neanderthal DNA, which equates to 242 gene variants out of the 7,462 tested. The report also includes:
- How your level of Neanderthal DNA compares with other 23andMe customers
- Traits associated with your Neanderthal DNA variants, such as your likelihood to have a fear of heights
- Lots of interesting facts about Neanderthals, including what they looked like and how intelligent they were
Following analysis of your DNA, 23andMe searches for users in their database with DNA segments that match yours. You’ll discover the percentage of DNA you share with your matches, which is used to form an estimate on how you’re related.
My DNA matches indicated that there are currently 1,500 people in the 23andMe database that I share DNA with.
Inspect each match more closely to discover where on your chromosomes you share DNA, where they fit on your family tree, how their ancestry breakdown compares with yours, relatives you have in common, their haplogroups, and proportion of Neanderthal DNA. You can also contact your DNA matches and potentially learn more about your shared heritage.
Your close DNA matches are automatically added to your family tree based on your estimated relationship. The family tree builder is free and very easy to use, with a simple input method.
23andMe has recently launched a new tool for Health + Ancestry service customers in the US and Canada, called the Family Health History Tree. It presents as a regular family tree but includes the ability to include important medical conditions, giving you a visual record of past and current health issues for you and your close relatives. This may help you understand more about your own health and the health of your children.
It’s not quite as sophisticated as those offered by Ancestry and MyHeritage, which also provide access to vast historical databases, but 23andMe’s family tree builder does provide a good starting point for your genealogy journey.
Health & Traits
Included in the Health + Ancestry test from 23andMe are 100 personalized health and traits reports through which you’ll learn how your DNA can affect your chances of developing certain health conditions, your carrier status for congenital diseases, several wellness reporters, as well as, how your genes influence certain physical, sense, and weird and wonderful traits.
Health Predisposition reports are currently available for 14 conditions including Celiac disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. By knowing your risk level, you can access your personalized Health Action Plan to discover what steps you can take to mitigate your risk.
By screening for certain genetic variants in my DNA, my Health Predisposition report indicates that I have a slightly increased risk of both Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Late-Onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Each individual report provides more information including what gene variant I have, how this variant may be present in your family members, lifestyle factors that also affect your risk, and more.
You’ll also get Carrier Status reports for 44 congenital conditions to see if you have genetic variants that can be passed on to your children. If you’re planning on starting a family, carrier testing can tell you your risk of passing on Canavan disease, Bloom syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and much more.
But that’s not all! 23andMe also provides 8 wellness reports, which help you discover how your body responds to diet, exercise, and sleep. For example, my results found that I’m likely to consume more caffeine and I’m predisposed to weigh less than average.
In each wellness report, you’ll learn how the result was calculated and what habits and lifestyle changes you can adopt based on your genetics, as well as the scientific evidence that has led to these conclusions.
Then there are the 34 trait reports, which explore the genetics behind your appearance and senses, including the likes of cheek dimples, earlobe type, hair texture, newborn hair, bunions, and even wake-up time.
Reading Your Results
In the instruction pamphlet, it states that it can take between 4 and 6 weeks to receive your results. Through my online account, I received email notifications when my sample was received by the lab, when the lab was genotyping my DNA, when the team was reviewing my genetic data, and when my results reports were ready. From shipping off my sample, it took a little over 5 weeks later that I received my results.
When signing in to my online account it’s easy to navigate to your chosen reports. I started with the ancestry reports and my Ancestry Composition, which shows me a percentage breakdown of my ethnicities, along with my sub-regional ancestry.
I was expecting British and Irish, and Scandinavian ancestry from what I know about my family history, but the real surprise was the North African and Sudanese trace ancestry, which chromosome painting revealed was found on my 1st and 5th chromosome, and X-chromosome respectively.
This trace ancestry can be picked up by 23andMe as they can calculate ancestry percentages down to the 0.1%, which is very impressive.
The color-coded map is a great visual representation of my heritage, but it would have been nice if the map was a little more interactive. However, I was impressed with the wealth of information 23andMe provides on each of your ethnicities, ranging from major historical events, migration patterns, and culture.
Scroll a little further down your ancestry report and you’ll discover your ancestry timeline, which is a novel feature I’ve not seen anywhere else. It shows how many years ago my most recent ancestor from each ethnicity was alive. I had no idea that I have a fairly recent ancestor that is likely to be 100% Scandinavian.
23andMe dig deeper into your heritage with sub-regional ancestry, which indicated that I’m in 20 genetic communities both in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where my ancestors may have lived in the last 200 years.
They are arranged by the strength of likely ancestry from strongest to weakest. Being able to trace ancestry down to the county level in areas as small as Dublin or Tyne and Wear is extremely impressive.
Now to go back a little further in time. Analysis of my mtDNA revealed that my haplogroup is H, which provides clues on where my ancestors lived and migrated going back tens of thousands of years.
The common ancestor of haplogroup H likely lived in the Middle East 18,000 years ago, with her descendants spreading across Europe, as well as migrating to southern Asia and the fringes of Western Siberia.
Your haplogroup ancestry report also contains a lot of interesting additional information, including:
- How common your haplogroup is amongst 23andMe users
- Historical figures who share your haplogroup – Marie Antoinette shares mine
- How 23andMe determined migration patterns
- The process of maternal (and if relevant paternal) inheritance
It is unfortunate that I can’t discover my paternal haplogroup myself as I don’t have a Y-chromosome and therefore no Y-DNA. However, I could learn the migration patterns of my paternal line if my Dad (or another close male relative) took the ancestry test and connected with me via DNA relatives.
One of my favorite parts of my ancestry results is the Neanderthal DNA report. It tells you how much of your DNA can be traced back to before Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago. It’s fascinating to know that gene variants from prehistoric humans can be detected in my DNA.
Most people of European or Asian descent are part caveman, and I’m no exception being 2% Neanderthal, with my 242 variants giving me more Neanderthal DNA than 55% of other 23andMe customers.
The report also highlights how Neanderthal DNA may influence your traits. For example, I have five genetic variants associated with being a better sprinter than a distance runner, one variant associated with having a worse sense of direction (so true), and one variant associated with being less likely to have a fear of heights.
Overall, I was really happy with my ancestry results from 23andMe. Not only do you get a detailed breakdown of your ancestry right down to the county level, but also added extras including chromosome painting, a Neanderthal DNA report, and maternal (and if you’re male) paternal haplogroups to discover the migrations and origins of your ancient ancestors.
Returning to the ancestry dashboard, you can see an overview of your DNA matches and your estimated relationships. My results revealed I have 1,500 DNA matches, all of which are 3-4th cousins. Click through to a complete list of your matches compiled from 23andMe’s DNA database of over 12 million samples.
I really liked the map feature of the report, which showed how some of my DNA Matches were located across the globe. It was surprising to see I had distant relatives as far away as Alaska and Australia. Zoom in on any location on the map to see the details of your matches in any one place, and learn more about individual relatives.
Select any of your DNA matches and you’ll get detailed information on how you and that match are connected. Insights include:
- Your predicted genetic relationship
- Where on your chromosomes you share DNA
- Where they are likely to fit into your family tree
- A comparison of your ancestry compositions, haplogroups, and Neanderthal ancestry
- Your common relatives.
Health & Traits Reports
Now onto the health and traits section of the results, which is pretty extensive, so like me, it may take you some time to go through, but with 100 reports, you’ll certainly gain some interesting insights.
Before you can view your health results, you’re required to read through some learning information – such as a carrier status and BRCA gene – so you know what your reports mean, as well as understanding that your 23andMe results don’t provide a medical diagnosis.
To understand the main points of your health reports at a glance, select Health Highlights. This will show you the findings that could impact you or your family’s health.
My Health Highlights indicated that I have a slightly increased risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, plus a genetic variant associated with Hereditary Hemochromatosis, but it’s not likely to increase my risk.
By selecting one of your health highlights, you can learn more about what associated genetic variants were discovered during the analysis of your DNA.
For example, by selecting my Late-Onset Alzheimer’s report, I’m informed that I have one variant in the APOE gene that research has shown is associated with a slightly increased risk of developing the disease. Additional information in the report includes:
- My percentage chance of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s by age 75 and by age 85.
- Detailed information and other factors that influence the chances of developing the condition, including age, sex, heart health, family history, intellectual activity, and more.
- The typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s and treatment options.
By selecting ‘Scientific Details’, you learn more about the gene analyzed and its function, as well as what variant was discovered. In my case, I have the C variant of the APOE gene, but it can’t be determined which parent I inherited from.
If you’re concerned about your health results, you can access your Personalized Action Plan, which provides additional information, asks questions about your lifestyle factors, and what questions to ask your doctor. Plus you’ll get advice on steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk, such as in the case of Alzheimer’s, schedule a time in the day for brain-engaging activity and improving your sleep.
Heading back to the Health Dashboard, I can select my 44 Carrier Status reports. From my health highlights, I already knew that I was a carrier for one gene variant linked to one of the congenital conditions 23andMe screen for – Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your results don’t include all possible variants associated with each condition.
Selecting the Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency report informed me which gene variant I carry, symptoms of the condition, the chances of me passing it on to my children, and treatment options. Plus you can view a report of the science behind the results, which is written in accessible language, making it easy to understand.
If carrier screening shows you do possess gene variants that can result in congenital conditions in your offspring, you’re provided guidance on what to do next, such as talking to a genetic counselor or connect with support groups. I found testing positive for a carrier gene brought home to me the importance of carrier testing when you’re considering starting a family.
The health insights don’t end there, 23andMe also provides eight wellness reports to find out how your genetics may influence your body’s response to exercise, diet, and sleep. My wellness reports indicated that I’m less likely to be lactose intolerant, likely to consume more caffeine, predisposed to weigh less than average, and more.
You can discover more about your wellness traits by selecting individual reports. Included in each wellness report are actionable lifestyle insights, which can help make the biggest difference based on your genetics. For example in my genetic weight report, I’m advised to:
- Limit my red meat intake, which is associated with weighing up to 12.3% less
- Avoid eating fast food, which is associated with weighing up to 11% less
- Sleep a healthy amount, which is associated with weighing up to 11.1% less
- And more…
Now on to the fun part of my health results…the 34 traits reports which show how my genetics may influence my appearance and senses. With 23anMe’s traits, discover how your genetics predict your hair color and type, eye color, skin pigmentation, ear lobe type, phobias, mosquito bite frequency, and even if I’m likely to hate the sound of people chewing.
It was really interesting and fun to look over all the reports to see where 23andMe got it right, and where they got it a little bit wrong. Clicking on each individual trait report gives you plenty of information on how 23andMe made the prediction, the genes involved, and more.
For example, when it came to toe length ratio, 23andMe was correct with their prediction I would have a longer second toe. My second toe (and even my third toe) is longer than my big toe. Also, as predicted, I don’t get dandruff or have a cleft chin, and I’m not afraid of heights or public speaking.
However, they didn’t predict all my traits correctly. According to my genes, I’m most likely to have dark brown eyes with 27%, when in fact I have green eyes, which was predicted at just 9%. Plus, I don’t prefer salty over sweet (I have a notorious sweet tooth) and I don’t have very fair skin or stretch marks.
In the health section of the results report, I appreciated that you have control over what information you would like to see and choose to exclude certain reports, such as Late-Onset Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and more.
It shows that 23andMe recognizes that whether you want to learn about these risks is a personal choice. If you do choose to exclude certain reports, you can always include them at a later date from within your account settings.
That’s my complete results from 23andMe and I have to say that although there is a great deal of information to go through. I did learn a great deal about myself – about my heritage, health risks to watch out for, and how my genes influence how I look.
A Higher Priced Kit, But You Get What You Pay For!
- Explore your genetic disease risk, carrier risk
- See how your DNA affects diet, exercise, sleep
- Get a personalized health action plan
Both the Ancestry + Traits and Health + Ancestry DNA kits from 23andMe are slightly more expensive than their competitors at $99.00 and $199.00 respectively. However, I’d say you get excellent value-for-money considering the amount of information your get for your money.
If you’ve purchased the Ancestry + Traits Kit, you can upgrade to health reports at any time for a one-time fee of $125, without needing to order another test or submitting another sample. This is on a par with the health upgrade offered byMyHeritage, but you do get screening for more conditions as well as wellness reports.
Starting a family tree is free with 23andMe with no subscription costs like those from Ancestry or Findmypast. However, there is no 23andMe database of historical records, so you’re limited to your personal knowledge and your DNA matches.
23andMe also have a membership which costs $199, plus $29/year. It includes everything you get from the Health + Traits kit, as well as additional ancestry insights, 10 additional premium health reports a year, regular updates, and pharmacogenomics reports, which show how your gene variants may influence how you process certain medication.
The low yearly fee provides great value for money, particularly if you’re interested in your genetic health risk, and want to know if certain medications are right for you.
You can pay for your 23andMe kits in your local currency via Paypal, all major credit cards, Apple Pay, and pre-paid credit or gift cards from Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.
Great All-Around Customer Support
The customer support center includes a set of support pages and frequently asked questions, which cover a wide range of topics. If these don’t answer all your questions you can contact 23andMe directly via email, telephone, or live chat.
I tested out telephone support first which operates Monday to Friday 3 am – 8 pm PT and Saturday and Sunday 8 am – 4 pm PT. I called midweek and was connected to an operator pretty quickly, who was friendly and knowledgeable about my inquiry into varied ethnicity estimates between providers.
Next up was email support. With other companies – including MyHeritage and Ancestry– I’ve been a little disappointed in the time it takes to respond to my emails. No such concerns with 23andMe. I received a response to my question about health report updates within just a few hours.
Finally, it was time to test out the live chat feature, unfortunately, at first, I was unable to connect to a live agent as I connected outside its operating hours of 9 am – 4 pm. However, I was able to use the chatbot feature that proved to be helpful when I asked about paternal haplogroups. When I was able to connect to a live chat agent they confirmed the answer the chatbot provided.
I have no complaints at all about 23andMe’s customer service. Both the website and the customer support agents covered every inquiry I had and more. I haven’t discovered many complaints from other 23andMe customers, with the exception of a few users who had issues with their saliva samples not containing enough DNA after multiple attempts.
If You Want Ancestry & Health Insights, You Want 23andMe
For health and ancestry insights, you can’t do much better than 23andMe.
With the Health + Ancestry test you get a breakdown of your ethnicity, insights on your sub-regional ancestry, your percentage of Neanderthal DNA, your ancient maternal and paternal ancestry, and DNA matches to those in the 23andMe database who share segments of your DNA.
You also get detailed health insights, including your genetic risks for a number of health conditions, as well as your carrier status for over 40 congenital conditions.
For some, the sheer volume of information you get in your DNA report may be overwhelming. Personally, I loved that the 23andMe ancestry and health reports were so extensive, as I have a real interest in DNA and how it holds genetic signatures of long-lost relatives and can provide clues into your future health risks.
How accurate is 23andMe?
23andMe provides an estimate of your ancestry breakdown by comparing your DNA to one of the largest reference populations in the world. By dividing your genome into thousands of segments and estimating the ancestry of each one based on which population it most closely matches.
The highly precise algorithm is based on probabilities and therefore, very accurate, but the results are not always set in stone. Customers can view their ancestry composition at 5 difference confidence thresholds – 50% (default), 60%, 70%, 80%, and 90% (most conservative).
When it comes to DNA relatives, 23andMe is extremely confident in the percentage of shared DNA. However, the predicted relationship is just that, as some familial relationships involve similar percentages of shared DNA.
The Genetic Health Risk and Carrier Status reports meet FDA requirements for analytical and clinical validity. Each gene variant 23andMe test demonstrated 99% accuracy, however, it is important to understand the limitations. For example, there can be thousands of gene variants associated with a condition and not all are tested for. Plus, many conditions are influenced by lifestyle factors as well as genetics.
How do I take a 23andMe DNA test?
The DNA tests from 23andMe require a saliva sample, which involves spitting into a tube until you reach the required level. Spitting into a tube over and over may not seem like the most pleasant experience, but it takes less than five minutes, even if you tend to have a dry mouth as I do.
If the thought of spitting into a tube makes you a little squeamish, the ancestry DNA test from MyHeritage requires just a simple cheek swab, but you still need to avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum for 30 minutes before taking the test.
How long does it take to get your 23andMe results?
23andMe claims your results will be ready in between 6-8 weeks after your registered sample is received by the lab. I received my results in just a little over 5 weeks and it was easy to keep up with the status of my sample with regular updates on the processing stage on my 23andMe profile homepage.
Can 23andMe detect and diagnose you with a disease?
No, 23andMe cannot diagnose any health condition. The health report can tell you if you possess gene variants that may increase your risk of developing certain diseases, or if you’re a carrier of gene variants for congenital conditions that can be passed to your children if your partner is also a carrier.
If you’re concerned about your DNA results and what they mean for your health, you should discuss your results with a doctor or genetic counselor, who can give you a better understanding of your risk.
I’m female; why didn’t I receive a paternal haplogroup?
Paternal haplogroups are identified by analyzing DNA on the Y-chromosome, which females don’t inherit. However, if you’re a female who really wants to know your paternal haplogroup, your brother or father can take the 23andMe ancestry test, which will reveal what group you belong to.
Who should consider taking a 23andMe test?
If you’re interested in learning detailed insights about your ancestry and/or health, you can’t beat 23andMe. The ancestry report covers many areas not included by other providers – like MyHeritage and Ancestry – such as haplogroups and your Neanderthal ancestry. Plus, you’ll also discover how your genes predispose you to over 30 traits.
If you’re interested in learning your genetic risk for developing certain diseases or your carrier status for congenital conditions, 23andMe can tell you if you carry any gene variants associated with an increased risk. Plus, discover how your DNA may affect your sleep, diet, and exercise, with wellness reports.