My 23andMe

Ever the science geek, last year I ordered a DNA collection kit from 23andMe.

23andMe review + results

After having a chat with someone who had done one of these, and hearing about the information you can get from them, I decided to treat myself to a kit. They currently vary in price (running from £125-£140 depending on where you buy it) and to some that might seem like a massive outlay, but this is an actual breakdown of your DNA, so to me it's worth the outlay. Tests like this would not have been on the market at all a few decades ago, and back in 2007 in the US this test cost $10,000. Only £140 for genotyping? Shut up and take my money. 

My primary interest was my ancestry, and seeing where my DNA has been over the years geographically, but the added extras of health information (in case I fancy a bit of biohacking) and the ability to search for other people with DNA matches was a bonus.

In brief; a kit arrives in the post, you spit into a tube, seal it up and send it back in the box. Then you wait patiently a good 8 weeks for your results ready email to drop into your inbox.

The Ancestry wasn't that thrilling for me as I expected, it was almost as I had predicted:

23andMe review + ancestry

I am so very British and Irish. With a drop of Scandi, French and German. With hints of Italian. And North African (?!). I think I'd show more Scandi if they could have some male family DNA to play with (so I might be buying my brother one of these kits for Christmas), given my ancestors are Danish Vikings, my original surname is of Danish origin and I am very, very blonde.

23andMe review + health data

Oh, and I'm a smidge more Neanderthal than average too. Explains my massive brow bone that my mum keeps kindly pointing out to me.

There's also the maternal haplogroup information, which will tell you which major branch of the mitochondrial phylogenetic tree you fell off. Mine's the same one as Marie Antoinette and Prince Philip. All well and good (and I could have a Danny Dyer moment about this) but once you've been to a lecture on genetics by Adam Rutherford (thank you Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason), that gets slapped out of you. Doesn't mean I won't be attempting to perfect my Claire Foy in The Crown impressions, though.

What I really enjoy in this section is the ability to search for people with the same DNA as you. There's so many! I currently have 706 matches for various segments of my DNA, which is lovely as it makes me realise that we're pretty special and unique to ourselves, but share so much with other people out there in the world. How wonderful. You can reach out and ask these people to share their details with you (health, not personal), see their maternal haplogroup and see how connected you are (so far I've found no one higher than a 3rd cousin, but you never know, we're a big family and a broach church).

Anyway, onto the health information, this is what I really enjoyed looking through and reading about. It's broken into a few different sections, as outlined below.

Genetic Risk Factors with contains locked results for Alzheimer's, Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, Parkinson's and open results for other things like cardiomyopathy and thrombophilia. The locked results you just have to re-enter your password to unlock. I'm of the mind that if the tests are done, the information is there and I've paid for it, I'd want to know it, so I unlocked mine immediately. There was nothing controversial on mine, but if you have a good grasp of your family medical history, you'd be aware of any red flags in advance.

Drug Response to popular medications, like Warfarin, Hepatitis C meds, Statins and so forth. I have a fast response to PPI drugs (as I have a bit of a fast metabolism) which means I'd need to have a higher dose (or a different drug) to have an effect. It's also an idea for me to stay away from Statins as I'm at risk of myopathy from them (remind me to keep an eye on my cholesterol!).

Inherited Conditions. These will simply display in two ways: Variant Absent or Variant Present. These conditions are recessive, meaning that they only occur when you have two variants for that condition, one inherited from each parent. One variant makes me a 'carrier', which has no effect on me directly, but if I was considering procreating, the father of my children would need some tests too. The big red flag for me was for a type Muscular Dystrophy, which I am a carrier for, and therefore could have repercussions if I was baby inclined.

Traits. These are fun bits. It can have a go at predicting basic things like hair and eye colour (both correct), lactose intolerance, norovirus resistance, alcohol flush response, if you're likely to be an addicted smoker. The bio-hacks kick in here too, as the results can look at muscle performance (so if you're like me you're a better sprinter than distance runner), how you metabolise caffeine (fast), if you're like to be obese (nope), when you're likely to hit menopause (early), response to diet (fats have little effect on my BMI) and how you respond to exercise (no change in my glucose tolerance, increased insulin sensitivity and that low-impact cardio is the best way for me to lose weight). It's not concrete and a lot of it is research-based but they're quite interesting little bio-hacks. 

The information is constantly updated with new discoveries and scientific information, more people taking tests and sharing their DNA, so even after digesting your results it's worth having a log back in to your profile in a month or so to see what's been happening and who has got in touch.

Is it worth the money? That depends on what you want. As a bit of a nerd who likes science and stats, I get a lot from this (you have access to your raw data, which you can run through various websites to get some further information and explanations about gene mutations). It's also a mild pyramid scheme as a few of my friends have followed suit and done these tests (so we nerd out over the data together) and as I said earlier, because I'm curious about my paternal line I now need to buy a kit for my brother to have a go as well.

The big thing to me about such tests being available to the masses is where this kind of thing could go next; besides biohacking for health and fitness purposes, such easy DNA collection could make for easier diagnosis of conditions, advanced health warnings from home (to avoid having to queue at the doctors to see if your sickness is viral or bacterial and so on). In this form it's far from perfect but it makes me a little excited about what the future might hold for this type of testing and if it's this easy now, what's next on the commercial market?

Basically, if this kind of thing interests you and you like to science for fun, it's worth the money.

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The January Round-Up

January, done! HOORAY!

Considering how much I hate January, this one was probably the best one I've had in years. I've suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder for as long as I can remember and this winter I took it to task. I made a big effort this month to look after myself; rest, eat well, move and laugh, which seems to have had a great impact. There's been the usual hiccups and bumps along the way, but nothing feeling apocalyptic, which is a hell of a change given how awful I felt towards the end of last year (but I think a lot of that was the political landscape changing beneath our feet). Maybe that's what put me in good stead for this year? Maybe a fresh start was what I needed? Whatever happened, it's been a good first month, which are words that I rarely say.

I spent the first half of the month hibernating. This is quite typical of me as I find the first week back at work after the holidays really tough going, so the first weekend is a write-off (I stayed in, cleaned my house and binged a boxset). The second week I felt slightly more social, and by the third week all systems were go.

I went to see Embrace, which I talked about here. I went to see Festival of the Spoken Nerd, who I've seen many times at Christmas Compendium, but never their full show and it was fantastic -  highly recommend to my fellow science / maths nerds.  (An easy guide to work out if you're one of these is based on how you answer this question - do you cheer at spreadsheets? If so, welcome, you are my people).

Festival of the Spoken Nerd

I spent a weekend with my friend Martin, who is such good company and fed me so well that I didn't want to come home!

Then it was just the long, slow wait to payday. OMG how long is the wait until January payday?!

I spent the last bit of the month back home with my mum, keeping her company while my step-dad had some heart surgery. Given I'd only been home the month previous, this is starting to feel like a routine! It's good to help out, though, and I do miss my mum a lot when I'm in London and she did need some TLC.

Didn't mean I didn't run back to London for a gig on the 31st, mind!


(That was Train at Islington Assembly Rooms; it was gorgeous and intimate. I hugged my friends and sang my heart out).

Speak of family things, my brother has written a book! As I'm rather partial to a philosophy book I was very excited to read Gary's book (he's the one feed I look forward to seeing on LinkedIn) and it hasn't disappointed. I laughed myself silly at the acknowledgement he gave me at the start of the book, too. 

Now we're well into the swing of 2017, it's time to share my goals for the year and how I'm getting on with them. I didn't make resolutions as such (as I'm not really down with this whole *new year, new me!* bollocks) but there are a few things I wanted to do this year (HASHTAG GOALS) and have made a good start on during the month:

  • Set up a second savings account for 'fun' spending. This is my way of using my credit card less, if I have a 'fun' spending account I can use that for holidays, gigs, theatre tickets, airbnb stuff and festivals. Starting from zero is very good for me with savings as I'll keep to see the total increase pronto, it also means I'll not have to dip into my other savings account anymore. As it's not flexi-access, I was mugging my interest rate every time I touched it. I have a very big adventure that I want to save up for this year, so I need to crack on with counting the pennies and be able to access my fun funds as and when I need them. 
  • Sort out my outgoings and reduce them. This meant getting rid of a few unused subscriptions (Audible, Tesco Delivery Saver etc), they might seem like small outgoings but you add up three subscriptions like that and it's almost £25 per month - and that's my gym membership! After cracking out my finance spreadsheets and jiggling some things around, I've been able to tuck an extra bundle into savings for the forseeable. My credit card has been cleared too.  
  • Be more mindful with my spending. I've gone old-school with this and I write down everything I spend that's not in my *essential life* section (bills, food, Spotify, Netflix) and then see if I've been a prat. I've also been withdrawing cash and only using that for the month. That's not a perfect system and some things will inevitably end up being paid for with my debit card (like getting halfway to the shops and realising I've forgotten my £20 note), but handing over cash is making me far more aware of my spending. Contactless is great and a flipping disaster zone for me all at once. I managed to get through January using only the cash I'd withdrawn. I'll be having another go at this during February. 
  • Go swimming weekly. My housemate suggested this and I thought it was a great idea. I've not been swimming for a good handful years and I have missed it. I commented on Twitter in the first week that no matter how fit you think you are, swimming is a great leveller (like Zumba, in that respect). On my first session I was knackered after 5 minutes (but I persevered for 30, with lots of rests between sets) but it motivated me to get better. There's never a better competitor to battle against than myself. I downloaded the SwimIO app to my phone to log all my swims and I've set myself a distance goal to swim the Great Barrier Reef by summer, which is 16515m. 
  • Get really f'kin fit. Not so much a vanity project as a wellbeing one. I miss being *really* fit so I'm working to fix that this year. The swimming helps, the occasionally gym date helps, the daily extra walking really helps. I committed to daily (weekday) crunches every morning for January and it stopped the lower backache that I had for half of last year within a week. Clearly my core needed some strengthening. It's funny how little things can make such a big difference to the way you feel, and almost immediately too.
  • Say 'No' to more things and start setting up 'Me' dates. Last year I said 'Yes' to almost every social event that came my way and some weeks I ended up absolutely knackered. As much as I've nailed dedicating time to various people and things in my life, I'm still a bit shit at committing giving time to just me and I've a nasty habit of taking it whenever I can get it and binge sleeping through it. The weekly swimming date works with this as that's something I'm committing to for me (along with a weekly gym date), I need to get better at allocating time for my stuff, not just winging my life via the gaps in my calendar.
  • Delete Facebook. Which I did on New Years Eve. It's been a lovely month without it and, even better, I'm not missing it. I realise FB can be a great communication tool but honestly I filtered down my newsfeed so much that I only had about 5 people on it. I really didn't like it; I didn't like the pressure it puts on people to tart up their lives (and I don't like liars), and after the amount of shit flying around it after US election and UK referendum last year I was officially done. I did let people know I was going and put my contact details on before I left, but if you were on my friends list and you missed my post let me know via one of these ways, I'm pretty free and easy with my phone number.
  • Get more involved with causes I believe in. If there's one thing that came out of the shitshow that was 2016 it was that I'm as mad as hell about certain things in the world. Women's health being discussed and defunded by dudes in suits, the UK's heavy dependence on food banks for survival, for example. So far this year I've written to my MP twice and contacted a few organisations to get involved in. I am fired up and not taking it anymore. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! 

Women's March London 2017

The world feels a massive mess right now, I figure if people want to make changes then they should find something they feel passionate about and get involved with it on a local level. Will it change *the world*? No. Will it change *your world*? Yes, and right now that's the best thing for us. Make *your* world a place to be comfortable and safe for everyone.

So, that's my year off and rolling. Tonight I'm going to see Chris Gethard's Career Suicide show at Soho Theatre, which will involve much Morrissey, setting the month off on the right tone.

Next week, I'll be walking home from work in daylight again. Spring is on the way, my friends. Here comes the sun. 

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