5 "Shape" Editors Took 23andMe DNA Tests and This Is What They Learned
The results might change your entire life—or just confirm everything you know.
Genetic testing is more accessible than ever-all you need is some spit, a DNA kit, and the patience to wait a few weeks for your results. However, just because it's available doesn't mean it's worth it; experts have plenty to say about the pros and cons of at-home genetic testing. And while your ancestry is set in stone, genetics is just part of the equation when it comes to predicting your physical traits, risk for disease, and other health factors. So you have to take a lot of the results with about 1,000 grains of salt.
Salt taken, five Shape digital editors tried 23andMe's health and ancestry kit to see what crazy (or not so crazy) things might pop up in their chromosomes. Bonus: If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can snag one now for $100 off the ticket price during Amazon Prime Day. ($99 $199; amazon.com)
"My genetic muscle composition is common in elite power athletes…. Come again?"
For the most part, my 23andMe results confirmed details I already knew about my ancestry and traits: The combination of my genetics makes me likely to have light hair, blue/green eyes, freckles, and a preference of salty or savory snacks over sweet. Yep! So for me, the most interesting part of the report was the health section, and specifically the fact that my genetic muscle composition is common in elite power athletes. Sure, as a non-Olympian, this doesn't really make or break my day-to-day workouts. (For most people, lifestyle and training are what drive performance-it's only at the elite level that this genetic variant seems to make a difference in success.) But just knowing that my genetics makes me likely to have more fast-twitch fibers (which allow for rapid, forceful muscle contraction) *did* make me feel like I should incorporate more sprint intervals into my boring steady-state treadmill runs. Plus, it's just fun to tell people that you share anything in common with elite power athletes!
I also found out that based on my genetics, I'm likely to be an especially deep sleeper-and to feel sleepier than others after a night of missed sleep. I've known this to be true my entire life. (All-nighters were never a thing for me in college.) But something about knowing it's part of my DNA made me feel a little better. 23andMe suggested midday naps as a solution. Unfortunately, this isn't really something I can explore with a day job. But their tips to exercise during the day, avoid caffeine, and keep a consistent sleep schedule were slightly more helpful reminders that there are things I can do to counteract my natural sensitivity around sleep.
- Kylie Gilbert, Associate Editor
"I can connect with more relatives than I ever imagined."
I was adopted at birth, so there's a lot I never knew about my medical history and nationality. My "family history" is blank on every medical form, and whenever I'd hear people say things like "heart disease/breast cancer/ovarian cancer runs in my family," I'd wonder what could be in store for me. Still, I pretty much decided to live the healthiest life I could without worrying about any sort of "genetic destiny." After all, genetics don't guarantee that you'll get a certain condition. And exercising regularly and limiting things like fast food are good ideas for everyone-regardless of family history.
But I was always curious-especially when it came to nationality. I grew up in a close Italian family and really loved the traditions, warmth, and-OMG-the food. When I was younger, I really hoped I, too, was Italian-but I knew deep down that I wasn't. (I'm super pale, not remotely olive in skin tone.) As I got older, I accepted that even though I wasn't actually Italian, I could still enjoy all the traditions, learn the recipes, and pronounce "ricotta" in a way that confuses all my friends. (BTW, it turns out my family isn't all that Italian either, according to their 23andMe tests! But that's another story.)
Love of pasta aside, I still wondered where my ancestors came from, and I really let my imagination run wild with this one: On a trip to Turkey one guy said I could be Turkish, and I thought, Yes! Maybe I'm Turkish!? That's it! On a layover in Norway: Maybe part Scandinavian? And in Ireland, when three separate people asked me for directions: 100% Irish? I mean, who knows!? Not me.
Needless to say, I was excited when genetic tests started to become a thing, and I opened my 23andMe report with the enthusiasm of a kid unwrapping the largest present under the Christmas tree. The results were both fascinating and meh. Fascinating: I'm way more Irish than I imagined, so the Dubliners asking for directions were on to something. Meh: I'm likely to consume more caffeine than average (accurate), predisposed to weigh less than average (accurate), and less likely to be a deep sleeper (confirmed by my sleep app).
I also felt a wave of relief when I learned that I'm not a carrier for genetic variants associated with certain illnesses (23andMe makes it clear that this doesn't mean I don't have another variant for said illnesses, but I'll take it). I'm most excited about the "DNA relatives" section: There are over 1,000 people on there-way more genetic relatives than I ever imagined connecting with. Who knows what I'll do with any of this information, but I'm glad I have it.
-Kiera Carter, Executive Editor
"It's cool to have my genes confirm the health goals I'm already working toward."
My test results weren't shocking, but they were fascinating. They predicted a ton of correct traits like eye color, freckles, hair texture and color, skin color, and even earlobe type-who knew!? But my unibrow and cleft chin were apparently a gift from the universe because my genes didn't predict them. It's also strangely satisfying to learn you're genetically predisposed for things you definitely do, like more than average sleep movement-all that tossing and turning isn't my fault! And when I learned that I have a gene variant associated with power athletes who have more fast-twitch muscle fibers (vs. endurance athletes), my love of HIIT and disinclination to ever run a full marathon made a ton of sense.
But my biggest takeaway was surprisingly motivating for my health goals: As someone who has struggled with what feels to me like an "extra" 10 to 15 pounds, it was edifying to learn that my genes predispose me to weigh 8 percent less than average for my height. That 8 percent less number just so happens to be my target weight-the number in my head that feels like a happy, maintainable weight goal. I'm a bit over that number right now, so it was cool to have my genes (and 23andMe's database of thousands of other humans) confirm what I'm working toward!
-Amanda Wolfe, Senior Digital Director
"Now I can tease my dad about exaggerating his Italian heritage."
When I received my kit as a Christmas gift, I was keen to try it because I really wanted to uncover some shocking information about myself-like an estranged sibling or a famous relative. When I checked out my ancestry results, I was surprised to find that my highest percentage, Italian, was only 27 percent. I expected it to be a lot higher since my dad always says he's "full Italian." He's the only member of my family who has yet to complete a DNA test, and I suspect it's because he wants to think he's more Italian than he actually is.
As for the health test results, I was amused by the little things that my genes are apparently able to predict, like the fact that I don't tend to consume a lot of caffeine and the particular type of wax that lives in my ears (I'll spare you the details). Even though all of the characteristics on the report are likely predictions instead of absolutes, in my case, everything seemed to be accurate. The fact that my muscle composition is uncommon in power elite athlete stung a little but was nonetheless spot-on. They were all things I already knew about myself, but it's pretty interesting to see that something as random as ear wax type is detectable in my DNA.
Overall, I didn't get the bombshell I was hoping for, but FWIW I did get a kick out of knowing that my power to detect the smell of asparagus in pee is written in my genes.
-Renee Cherry, Digital Writer/Producer
"At 24 years old, we found out that we're actually identical twins."
I have a twin sister. We make the same weird face to express disgust. We have the same super-curly hair (that somehow no one else in our family has). We successfully swapped places on several April Fools' Days in elementary school. We can't even tell ourselves apart in baby pictures. Despite all our twin-like similarities, however, we've always been told that we were fraternal twins. Mini genetics lesson: Fraternal twins are born from two separate egg and sperm pairs and are usually in two different amniotic sacs. So, genetics-wise, it's like having a regular sibling who is born at the same time. Identical twins, on the other hand, are born when there's one egg and sperm pair that splits into two embryos, meaning the two babies have the exact same DNA. (Hence, the name "identical.")
At some point in our early 20s, we decided that we didn't buy this fraternal twins thing. After all, ultrasound technology wasn't nearly as accurate as it is today, and the doctor totally could've made a mistake, right?
So we both did 23andMe tests, partially to see what interesting insights we might be able to get from our DNA, but mostly to see if we were really fraternal twins. Fraternal twins and full siblings share about 50 percent of their DNA, while identical twins share 100 percent-a number that pops right up in 23andMe when you compare your results with DNA relatives. Sure enough, we got a notification: "You have a new DNA relative: Identical Twin." At 24 years old, we found out that our entire twin-lationship was a lie.
Now, our twin bond is stronger than ever (even though, no, we can't read each other's minds). But this revelation has also driven me to rethink my "we're just different" mentality-around athletics in particular. I grew up cheerleading (a sport that revolves around explosive movements and only requires 2.5 minutes of endurance) while she's been a serious distance runner (and now triathlete) since middle school. Even though your body adapts to the type of athletic training you do, I took this as a reason to ditch all my "I can't do endurance" excuses and just give it a whirl. Two half marathons later, I finally understand the allure of a long run-and can now tag along on them with my identical twin.
- Lauren Mazzo, Assistant Editor
"Now, when training gets hard, I'll know that I AM capable."
I'm a big believer in preventive health care, so I was mostly interested in learning about any genetic markers that made my predisposed to diseases that either ran in my family or that hadn't been on my radar. Luckily, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know about, but even still it was worth it for "sigh of relief" purposes.
So, with less-than-shocking health risk results, I turned my attention to the wellness section and found some information that I think is actually more impactful information for my everyday life. Specifically, I dove into the section that discussed my muscle composition. Turns out my genetic variants are common in what 23andMe labels as "elite power athletes," which means that the variant allows my cells to produce a protein found in fast-twitch muscles fibers. (A quick refresher: Fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited for explosive movements such as sprints, box jumps, or a barbell power clean. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited for longer, more moderate intensity exercise such as long-distance running.) In truth, when you dig deeper, I also have genes that are found in endurance athletes, but my general genetic makeup skews toward power.
Aha! I felt validated in what I already felt I "knew" about my body. HIIT workouts filled with kettlebell cleans and burpees? Sign me up. I got this. Running a 5K? Struggle bus city. I've challenged myself to literally just start running (read more about my journey to my first 5K!) and not gonna lie, every step was hard. My results say it might be hard, but not impossible with the proper training (and mindset). And hey, I'm an active, fit, determined person, who actually enjoys the idea of doing things that are really hard and a bit scary, so I took those results and ate them for lunch. Translation: I signed up for a 12K as part of the Big Sur International Marathon! That's 7.4 miles-about 3.4 miles than I've ever run in one stretch.
So, now, when training gets hard (looking at you, Saturday long run), I'll know that I AM capable-my body is capable.
-Alyssa Sparacino, Senior Digital Editor