Remember that time when DNA testing meant finding out how far—literally—your ancestry roots go? Whether it was mixed with Korean and a bit of European or you’re 100 per cent Chinese, these tests would break down the geographical (gene-ographical?) history of my DNA. But of course, the price—while reasonably so—stopped me from hitting the ‘Add to Cart’ button. Instead, I stuck with Buzzfeed quizzes to see which Disney princess I am (it’s Belle, in case you were wondering).
Since then, however, home DNA test kits have been more revealing of what your 20,000-something genes have to say. So, when CircleDNA offered us the Premium kit to review, I let my curiosity take charge. After approximately three weeks since I sent my DNA swab, an 84-page PDF of the results was delivered to my inbox. Here is my review.
HOW IT WORKS
It’s hard to believe that one small black box is all it takes to unlock over 500 reports across over 20 categories, with 99.9 per cent analytical accuracy. CircleDNA isn’t kidding when it deems itself the world’s most comprehensive DNA test. Prenetics Limited, the genetic testing company behind CircleDNA, sets its kits apart from the rest in the market by using the most advanced Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) technology versus the genotyping process.
I’ll spare you the science, but basically, WES analyses one per cent of your genome—specifically, the exome, the 1 per cent of your genome—which is higher than most home DNA test kits do. For context, two unrelated people share 99.9 per cent of their genes with one another, but a variation in the DNA sequence—a mutation—is what sets apart Person A from Person B, or rather, a multitude of these mutations. They’re what determines your physical and personality traits, as well as potential health issues. WES is the process that targets those changes, some of which could be harmful and some that could be beneficial instead. According to CircleDNA, “scientists believe that the exome is the most important part of our genome, and where most disease-causing mutations occur.”
So, as much as I was interested to discover my ancestry makeup, it was also nerve-wracking to see if the results were going to reveal any potential health issues I have so been blissfully unaware of, as well as whether I’ve been following a diet that’s suitable for my body.
The CircleDNA Premium kit is super simple to use. All you have to do is download the CircleDNA app then register the kit. Inside the box is a bracelet with the word ‘change’, which I reckon is more of an aesthetic than anything else. More importantly, the box contains a sealed swab, a tube to keep it, a sample bag and a prepaid plastic envelope. Rather than spitting into the tube or choking yourself with the swab a la PCR tests, I just needed to rub the swab on the insides of my cheeks ten times per side. Then, I place the stick into the tube, shake it and place it in the sample bag. Next, I arranged for the pickup via FedEx to have it sent back to the lab—for free, might I add. Three weeks later, my results were delivered to me via email and made available on the app too.
There was so much info to digest with some categories that I wasn’t even expecting an answer for, such as how my blood has a higher tendency to attract mosquitoes or that I have a “likely average” breast size. I didn’t need to know the latter, but I suppose it’s a fun little fact. The more essential results outweigh the fun little facts, thankfully. From learning about my diet and nutrition needs to exercise responses to health risks that range from cancer, brain health and diseases, there was a lot to unpack. I’ll pick a few to illustrate.
Under the Diet and Lifestyle category, the results covered diet, nutrition, well-being, stress and sleep, pollution and skin. While it was good to know that my optimal diet type is a healthy balanced one, seeing “higher sensitivity” in red under alcohol and salt was interesting. Upon reading further, it doesn’t mean that I get drunk easily, but rather it’s an indication that it’s difficult for my body to break the chemicals down, thus resulting in harmful toxins instead.
As you’ll see from the screenshots above, the PDF only provides an overview of your results. In contrast, the app goes into more detail, including recommendations as well as further elaborations for the science geeks. In addition, the Premium kit offers free lifetime updates on your DNA insights within the app. I received my results back in mid-February, and almost a month since then, the app has been updated with more explanation. It continues to be a fascinating read.
The fun doesn’t stop there as this package includes a complimentary one-on-one consultation with CircleDNA’s health consultants. I had a 30-minute session with Health Coach Ping, who first inquired about my lifestyle (my eating habits, health conditions, supplements that I take, etc.) before pointing out the critical areas of concern (or need for change) from the results. After the call—though I did take a lot of notes—Ping sent me an email recapping all the details from our call as well as useful links for me to take the next step.
Under Nutrition, for example, it turns out my diet has higher needs for iodine, vitamins B6 and B12, but, on the other hand, Well-being revealed that I have a “likely lower” bone mineral density. The latter means I have a higher risk of having a bone fracture or developing osteoporosis. As such, Ping gave a pervasive list of foods that I should include in my diet to supplement these needs and risks. Jumping ahead, my Disease Risk report confirmed that my frequent migraines since I was a child were built into my genes from the beginning—”elevated risk”—and Ping’s was to try adding magnesium into my diet. These are just a sprinkle of suggestions she’s given me and which I’ve taken to heart.
Another helpful insight was the Sports and Fitness category because I can finally blame it on my DNA for my “low” endurance capacity; why my Apple Watch prompts me if I’m working out because my heart is beating a drum track when I’m just walking to the train station (aka “higher” Heart Rate Response to Exercise); why I easily hurt my tendons after attempting to use the jump rope or jog. Of course, I’m not saying all these to excuse myself from exercising, but knowing what would be an efficient workout for my body without the DNA disadvantages is beneficial. The report cites my optimal sports type as one with medium power, low endurance and high strength. Ping helpfully deciphered that as “likely to respond better to strength and power-based activities such as weight-training, yoga, Pilates, boxing, HIIT, etc.”
In my opinion, the more crucial part of the report would, of course, be the ones pertaining to cancer risks, dementia and brain health, common health risks, disease risk and drug response. Thankfully, I was relieved to see that there was no cancer-causing mutation detected in the large variety of cancer types. But as the disclaimer flashed on the app before seeing the result, a mutation can happen due to non-genetic factors at times. The Health and Disease portion of the report is extensive as it tests for health risks from Type 2 Diabetes to High Cholesterol to Tooth Decay to ADHD to Vitiligo tp Rheumatoid Arthritis. While thankfully, my results were overall not too worrisome, what piqued my attention was the one under Family Planning. It’s useful for detecting potential genetic conditions that one could pass on to an unborn child. In my case, it detected that I was an Alpha Thalassemia carrier—something I’ve never known to be even possible. With that information, I can take action and consult with a doctor to determine if it’s a risk or what I can do.
Finally, Drug Response is another extensive part of the report—it’s pages and pages of drugs you can use, need to avoid or take with caution, and they’re all arranged according to diseases.
CircleDNA does put out a disclaimer throughout the report that these results do not replace professional medical diagnosis or “determine medical action”. Is it worth the RM2,590 price tag? For the number of results it provided, I would go with a resounding ‘yes’, if you can afford it—although there is an option to pay in instalments via atome. It’s no ancestry test, but it’s even more helpful to know and can make such a difference for anyone’s lifestyle today and for all the days to come. However, I don’t believe I’m “gifted” in music or “excellent” with entrepreneurship tendencies. I probably don’t need the test to tell me that I am “less likely” to develop a food, smoking and cleaning addiction. Or that I have a “likely normal” smell sensitivity. But these little fun facts do at least break up the more serious sides of the report, and there are pages of those.
Well, at least, I finally found out what my ancestry makeup is:
The CircleDNA Premium DNA Test kit is available at RM2,590 on their website but you can get 33% off all kits with the code ‘BURO33’. Follow @circledna_my for more updates.
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