Is AncestryHealth worth the upgrade

There is one thing you should know about DNA testing

Hollis Johnson / Business Insider
  • About four years ago, I sent spit samples to 23andme and Ancestry to see what my DNA could tell me about my family history and health. I also took the National Geographic test, which has since been discontinued.
  • I assumed I would only look at the results once. But with the frequent new updates, the information about my ancestry has also changed.
  • People who choose to take such a test must be aware that their results can change regularly as there is constant new knowledge in the field of genealogy.
  • You can find more articles from Business Insider here.

I don't know anyone who has sent their spit for more genetic testing than I do.

As a health reporter for Business Insider USA, I've been keeping an eye on the development of commercial genetic tests that examine spit samples and analyze the DNA in them to find out information about parentage and health. These genetic tests have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, there are signs that the industry is slowly declining.

Every company that offers genetic testing has its own data sets and different ways of analyzing the information in the DNA. That's why every company I've tested has a different approach.

Over the past few years I've kept an eye on my results and in some cases discovered new updates. However, one of the tests - National Geographic's - has since been discontinued. When I sent my spit back then, I didn't expect that there would always be new updates and that the result would change regularly.

Every now and then I am asked which test I would recommend. In the past, my answer could be limited to one question: What do you want to achieve with the test?

But the tests are becoming more and more similar. For example, in October Ancestry added a health test to its family history reports. So I've changed my advice and now I'm telling people what expectations they should have from the test - including the fact that their results may change.

Here is a recap of two genetic tests I did: 23andme and Ancestry.

23andme gave me a comprehensive overview of my health and ancestry

Hollis Johnson / Business Insider

There are two versions of the 23andme genetic test: The more expensive version for 200 US dollars (182 euros) gives you information about your health, character traits and information about your ancestry. The $ 100 version gives you an overview of your ancestry and information about your predisposition to certain properties, such as which type of ice cream you probably prefer.

The company now also offers a $ 500 VIP service that includes two kits and lab processing prioritization. In addition, customers receive an individual tour through their ancestry history.

To analyze your DNA, 23andme uses a technique called genotyping. As humans, we have three billion base pairs in our genome - that's a lot of information that needs to be digested. That is why genotyping looks for specific parts of the DNA and puts them together.

The health reports can tell you about your physical characteristics (for example, whether you are likely to have dimples or curly hair) and your well-being (for example, how well you process caffeine). The report also reveals whether you are a carrier of a particular genetic mutation.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved 23andme to provide reports on a person's genetic risk for certain diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and certain mutations associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The test has more than 80 reports and more are being added all the time. I often get emails letting me know that a new test is ready for me - I recently received one that looked at my genetic risk for celiac disease.

23andme's ancestry reports provide users with access to information about their lineage composition (which geographic regions the genes match), haplogroups (genetic populations that share a common ancestor), and kinship with the Neanderthals. Customers will also have access to a tool called DNA Relatives. With this program, 23andme users can get in touch with other people who could possibly be relatives.

Over the past year, 23andme updated its ancestry results to provide more specific regional information. For example, my report used to only show Scandinavian ancestry, but the update identified Norway as the country where my ancestors lived for the past 200 years.

A year later, my results changed again. Instead of being about 63 percent of Scandinavian descent, I'm now up to 66 percent - a small change, but also proof of how new data sets can affect and change my results.


It is interesting that the report does not break down the percentage of me that I am Swedish and Norwegian. Instead, it shows me in which regions in both countries I probably have ancestors.


23andme also shows you how many generations ago your ancestors may have lived in a particular region. For example, I might have Finnish ancestors in the late 18th century, and French and German even earlier.

My verdict: If you see this test as a science experiment, use it to get involved in research, or see it as a chance to learn about your genetic health risks, then this is the place for you.

If you just want to know where you come from, what character traits you have and what part of the DNA you share with a Neanderthal, the cheaper option is a good choice. Just don't forget to keep checking your results as they may change.

Ancestry's DNA testing has produced very different results

Lydia Ramsey / Business Insider

In October, the Ancestry company changed massively. In addition to the version that focuses solely on ancestry and costs $ 99, Ancestry now also offers health reports.

Compared to 23andme, my results at Ancestry haven't changed much over the years. But when I signed up in February to see my results, I ran into a big surprise.

When I first got my results I was told that I am 90 percent Scandinavian with no distinction between Norway and Sweden. Then, after an update in September 2018, I was suddenly 71 percent Norwegian and only 17 percent Swedish. Finding out that I'm only 17 percent Swedish was a huge shock. According to my calculations, the value should be around 37.5 percent.

In the months that followed, I raised my family's concerns about this major disagreement. However, in the end none of our traditions really changed.

While waiting for the new health test in October, I checked my results from Ancestry again and was surprised again.

This time I was shown results that were much closer to what my family had told me: 54 percent Norwegian and 36 percent Swedish.


I address the wide variability in results every time someone mentions genetic testing in a conversation (which I do quite a lot). I didn't expect the changes to bother me so much. When I compare the results with the reports from my family members, I'm not sure if it was worth investing so much money in genetic testing.

Ancestry also offers the ability to show ancestors' migration patterns. So my ancestors began to emigrate to the American Midwest around 1825-1850.

Ancestry plans to offer two health products and I'm still waiting to try these out:

AncestryHealth Core provides health reports with information about diet and metabolism as well as carrier status for rare diseases that parents can pass on to children, such as cystic fibrosis, hereditary cancers or heart disease.

AncestryHealth Core costs $ 150. If you've already taken an Ancestry test, the additional health report costs an additional $ 50.

AncestryHealth Plus to be introduced in 2020 and to offer a larger selection of reports. Also, over time, as science advances, more information is to be added.

The test is intended to be performed using the latest sequencing technology, rather than the genotyping technology used in the standard Ancestry DNA test. In contrast to genotyping, which looks for certain parts of the DNA and puts them together, next-generation sequencing only looks at the protein-coding parts of the genome, the so-called exome. This sequencing analyzes about two percent of those three billion base pairs.

To run the new sequencing test, Ancestry is working with the laboratory testing company Quest Diagnostics.

The test will cost $ 200 and will provide quarterly updates and additional information for six months. After that, membership costs $ 50 for six months or $ 100 per year.

People who have already submitted their spit to Ancestry do not need to send new samples.

It will take about six to eight weeks for reports to be ready - whether or not you've already taken a parentage test.

My verdict: I will wait until I have my health report to give my judgment. In the meantime, if you're interested in tracing your family tree across generations and linking that information to historical documents, then the test is for you.

Notes on data protection

Aside from the fact that your results may change over time, there is one more important thing to consider before taking a test: your privacy.

After all, the tests work with information that is fundamental and unique to each person.

The Federal Trade Commission noted in a December 2017 blog post that it is better to read the fine print carefully. "If you're thinking of ordering a DNA testing kit, you owe it to yourself - and to family members who may be affected - to thoroughly research the options," the post said.

Read also: Genetic tests like MyAncestry or 23andMe harbor a danger that very few think about

James Hazle, a researcher at Vanderbilt University who has grappled with privacy laws for such genetic testing, emphasizes the importance of this Federal Trade Commission recommendation.

"We're good at clicking 'I agree' and not reading the Terms of Use," he told Business Insider in December 2017.

Questions to consider when reading the Terms of Use include:

  • Who does your DNA belong to?
  • Who can see your non-personal information (not linked to your name)?
  • How is your personal data used?
  • Can you choose not to share your genetic data with research partners?
  • Can you delete your data after the test?

This text was translated from English by Franziska Heck.