The popular DNA testing company 23andMe just announced that its $199 at-home DNA test would include a report on diabetes, with an explanation about how both a person’s genetic test results and their lifestyle influence their risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Is this a good investment?
It turns out that there are already pretty good ways to test for diabetes, and although different authorities have different recommendations about who would benefit from screening, all agree that screening is important, as a huge number of people are at risk.
Diabetes may not have symptoms early in its course—which is why docs screen to catch it early. Unchecked, it can leave you fatigued and with vision problems, kidney failure, an increased risk of heart disease, and ED.
To avoid this kind of damage, it’s best to try to prevent diabetes if possible, or at least find it in its earliest stages (called prediabetes) so that a person can be more aggressive in preventing overt diabetes. People with prediabetes are likely to develop overt diabetes within ten years unless they take steps to prevent it. It’s estimated that there are 86 million(!) people in the US with prediabetes, 90 percent of whom are unaware of it.
Clues you’re at risk for diabetes
So, without knowing your genetic code, how do we know who is at risk? There are many clues you don’t need to pay $199 to find out:
When there are enough risk factors to screen for diabetes, I would recommend a visit with your friendly health care professional to get screened. Screening tests may be a simple blood sugar check; an A1c test (which looks at blood sugar over the last two months); and the most sensitive but least used of all, the oral glucose tolerance test. If you have actual symptoms of diabetes, including blurry vision, feeling thirsty or like you need to urinate all the time, have numbness or pain in the hands or feet or are feeling fatigued, you need to be tested sooner rather than later.
Back to 23andMe
What is not yet clear is how often someone will be identified by 23andMe as being at risk who otherwise wouldn’t meet any of the extensive criteria for screening above. And for those who are identified as at-risk by genetic testing but wouldn’t otherwise meet the criteria, how often are they found to be diabetic or pre-diabetic? Until I see that information, I can’t recommend spending money on the DNA test.
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