I tried five home health test kits and this is what I discovered

“And does it run in your family?”

It’s a common question for doctors to ask, but when I was diagnosed with a heart problem at 16, I couldn’t answer it.

On my mother’s side I knew the story – but my father’s? No clue. For those of us who are estranged from parents, it can be difficult to be asked this by medical professionals.

Ever since that moment, I’ve been determined to know as much as I can about my health, and so when home testing kits became more common, I knew I wanted in.

Although they wouldn’t be able to tell me about my father’s family history, they would, I hoped, let me know if I was at increased risk for something because of his genes.

I also wanted more control over something that so often feels out of the hands of non-physicians; something the average person has very little understanding of: our own body.

The first thing I learned, when one of the sets arrived, is that I have poor circulation. Not quite the revolutionary insight I was hoping for, but useful nonetheless.

Trying to draw blood from the finger with a lancet proved impossible, so I had to ask someone to take my sample for me (which costs more), or order a replacement kit (send back a half-vial of blood in the hope that it would be enough).

But when I got the kits sent, they produced interesting results.

The two general health tests I did were ForthWithLife’s Baseline Plus and Medicheck’s Ultimate Performance Blood Test.

Baseline Plus (£79) is designed to give you a “snapshot of your overall health and well-being” by looking at various biomarkers (ie cholesterol, vitamin B12, total protein). The results come back in a couple of days and are presented in a very accessible way, with a ‘more details’ click to help you understand what all these terms mean.

The Baseline Plus results (Image: Jess Austin)

The screening comes with a doctor’s report at the top. Mine read: ‘Overall this is a great panel. The low triglycerides and slightly elevated total cholesterol are not worrying.

The test is designed to be part of a subscription package, so I think if you were to get new results every six months, you might get more insight into your health. For once though, I didn’t quite know what to make of my stats – but that’s probably because the doctor said there was nothing alarming about them. If anything, they provided some peace of mind.

I also did Medichecks’ Ultimate Performance Test (£199), which asks buyers: ‘Are you an athlete, biohacker or someone who wants to be at their best?’ The answer for me was a firm ‘no’, but since it also promised to ‘learn as much about my body as possible’, I was sold.

When the results came they felt comprehensive. Each drop-down section had a further overview of results, and below each result was an explanation of what each figure meant and how you can improve the result.

Medichecks' screen

Medichecks’ test is more expensive at £199 (Image: Jess Austin)

Medichecks' screen

But has a very user-friendly interface (Image: Jess Austin)

All this was accompanied by a doctor’s report which commented on all my results, gave tips where necessary and flagged areas of concern. My cortisol levels were low, so the doctor recommended seeing my GP to check for Addison’s disease – a lifelong condition where your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones.

While initially nervous that I might become the urban legend of the journalist who found out she had a serious illness for an article, I went to my GP. She said it was unlikely I had this rare disease, but put me through more blood tests, which confirmed I didn’t have it. She noted that because I took this test in the afternoon, my cortisol levels would have dropped, leading to a confusing reading.

It was a good lesson in accepting all home test results with caution.

Jess on a beach

The first thing I learned is that I have poor circulation (Image: Jess Austin)

The test I was most excited about was 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry (£149), which can find out if you have an increased genetic risk for certain diseases – for example, it looks for certain variants of the BRCA gene (which can lead to an increased chance of breast – and ovarian cancer) or the gene for Parkinson’s disease. This was the one I hoped would give me the knowledge I lacked from being estranged from my father.

Another advantage is that it relies on saliva, rather than blood, for the sample, and unlike other tests where you are encouraged to repeat them throughout your life, this is one you only need to do once.

The results take a bit longer to arrive – around 20 days in my case – but when they do you have a huge amount of information to sift through. 23andMe also makes sure to issue a disclaimer before you receive your profile that the information may have life-changing implications, and throughout the report there are many other reminders that this test is not a formal diagnosis and that you should talk to your health care professional for that.

23andMe's screen

23andMe looks at how likely you are to develop certain conditions (Image: Jess Austin)

23andMe's screen

They explain each condition in great detail (Image: Jess Austin)

I found out that I have an increased risk of losing my sight as I get older (I have 2 variants of that gene), a variant for absorbing too much dietary iron, and can pass a genetic disorder to future children if my partner also is a carrier for MCAD deficiency. Although all that information could have a significant influence on my life later, it was a relief to be armed with it.

On my mother’s side, our family has a history of late-onset Alzheimer’s, so I was assured that I did not have the gene for it, although the company makes it clear that there are many other non-genetic factors that can play a role. a role in the development of the disease.

23andMe also provided some more “fun” insight into who I am. It predicts whether you have certain characteristics or well-being characteristics. For example, I’m likely to have muscle composition seen in elite athletes (not sure about that one), prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla (true), and have wet earwax instead of dry (what does that even mean?!) .

But the most interesting part for me was that I have 24% more Neanderthal DNA than other customers (signals from my loved ones that I’m stupid and wild). Considering that research in the field won a Nobel Prize this year, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we find out more about what this might mean.

23andMe's screen - Neanderthals

23andMe also offered some more “fun” insights (Image: Jess Austin)

The next health MOT kit I tried was one that looked at my fertility (via Hertility). I knew some information about my family background in it. I knew I was a “miracle” when my mum was told she wouldn’t be able to have children and that my dad has had three more children.

Having adenomyosis – when tissue grows into the walls of the uterus – myself, I was keen to know as much as I could after being told different things by different doctors over the past 10 years, such as “your chance of miscarriage is taller than the average woman’ and ‘if I don’t give you this treatment, you may become infertile’.

The test (£149) looks at three hormones – AMH, TSH, FT4 – and is designed to check hormone imbalance, egg quantity and reproductive health conditions. Fortunately, my results came back within an acceptable range and I found the doctor’s report at the top helpful.

However, it was booking an optional consultation with one of Hertility’s specialists – Dr Srdjan Saso – afterwards (£39) that really helped me understand what these numbers meant and the impact they could have on my fertility.

Hertility results

The next health MOT kit I tried was one that tested my fertility (Image: Jess Austin)

Jess smiles

I have 24% more Neanderthal DNA than other customers (Image: Jess Austin)

He said my TSH was slightly above average and before I tried to get pregnant I should have this blood test repeated by my GP. If it remained the same, he recommended that I be put on a low dose of levothyroxine to increase my chances of conception.

He also asked me about periods and adenomyosis, and gave advice. He recommended a £200 scan which I could book through him or if I couldn’t afford it he said he would write me a clinical letter to give to my GP suggesting it.

That letter covered everything we discussed in our meeting and I feel more confident about my gynecological health than I ever have before, which I know from talking to other women is a rare feeling.

Hertilty has access to a range of experts – from nutritionists, to fertility specialists and oncologists – available to book once you’ve received your results. Although they come at an additional cost, I will say that my time spent talking with Dr Saso was essential in making the test feel worthwhile.

However, the company also recommends that you repeat the screening annually if you’re under 30 and twice a year if you’re over that, which can be expensive. I personally would do it again if I actively tried, but not until then.

The last test I took looked at my nutrition. NGX is a company that offers BodyFuel shakes tailored to your genetic makeup. After doing a swab test (£99), you receive a 31-page report on how well you absorb certain nutrients, what you lack as a result, which foods you are better at processing and tips on what to include in your diet.

NGX's screen

This was part of a 31 page report from NGX (Image: Jess Austin)

NGX's screen

Their shakes cost around £2.50 per meal (Image: Jess Austin)

Like Hertility, in this case, it was the consultation (which was free) with one of NGX’s experts afterwards that helped shed light on what my results meant to my daily life.

Rebecca advised me on what supplements I should be taking to make sure I’m getting the vitamins I need, helped me break down what my body is good at processing and how to optimize my workouts (a cup of tea pre workout has done wonders) and even gave me some helpful tips on what to eat and drink during Covid to help me feel better (I was on day 12 of positive tests at the time).

I’ve since been drinking their BodyFuel shakes, tailored for me (£69.98 for 28 servings), which have been a great breakfast when I’m in a rush and have made me feel less sluggish in the morning. They cost around £2.50 per meal, so if you eat the two a day they suggest, it could be an expensive investment.

So, were any of them worth it?

Although I would never have been able to find out any of this information through the NHS (23andMe & NGX), other tests such as Hertility, Medichecks and Forths help ease the burden on our strained health service and help you get answers without having to go through the heartache of unexplained infertility or the stress of having worrisome symptoms first.

Of all the tests I did, 23andMe’s was my favorite for all the insight it gave me. It also feels like the best value for money, as it’s a one-and-done job – and anyone who takes it also gets access to their ancestry and DNA genealogy service.

I also felt Hertility gave me a sense of security about my health – although I wouldn’t repeat it regularly.

The others definitely have their merits and I would recommend them to anyone with cash to spare who is looking for more daily insight, but for me I would find the cost too much to commit to regularly.

While none of these tests were really able to answer the dreaded “does it run in your family” question, I feel like I’ve been given some agency over my health.

MORE: What does DNA stand for, where is it found and who discovered it?

MORE: The ‘medical feminist’ nurse goes above and beyond for women’s heart health

MORE: Man with a rare gene who lost his mother to cancer has his entire stomach removed as a preventive measure

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *