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Guess who has higher pain tolerance than average?
October 2, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
A few weeks ago, I decided to pay $99 to have a company called 23andme.com test my genes.
I was most interested in finding out if I have any long-lost relatives in Finland who might also have signed up for this site; 23andme.com claims it can help people connect with third and fourth cousins. But the company also provides some interesting information about what your genes say about health risks and traits like eye color.
Though the company has not yet provided me with a breakdown of what countries my ancestors were living in 500 years ago (for that I have to wait for a few more weeks), they did provide me with an overview. According to 23andme, I am 3.2 percent Neanderthal, which is in the 96th percentile of people with European ancestry. Everyone whose ancestors came from Europe has between 1 and 4 percent Neanderthal ancestry, since at some point modern humans and some Neanderthals were intimately connected. Since I've been following research on the Neanderthals for years, my relatively high percentage of Neanderthal heritage interests me and makes me want to know more about which Neanderthal genes are still found in modern humans. 23andme also shows the mitochondrial DNA I inherited from my mother, which is passed down along the female line for thousands of years. Apparently, I have one of the most common haplotypes for western Europeans. It originated 50,000 years ago in the Near East and is very common in Sweden, where my great-great maternal grandmothers lived.
I also got back some of the raw data about what my genes say about my health and the way I look. The testing correctly estimated that I had a higher chance than average of having blue eyes, which I do. Should I ever take up smoking, which I have no intention of doing, I have a slightly lower risk of becoming addicted to nicotine than the average person. I also have a higher pain threshold than average, making me tougher than all those wimps out there who cry every time they stub their toes. 23andme.com correctly said I am not a redhead, which may have something to do with my pain tolerance. Redheads are apparently more sensitive to pain than we brunettes.
Thanks to 23andme.com, I also now know that I need to be extra careful if I ever visit a leper colony or a place where mosquitoes run rife, since I have higher than average odds of catching leprosy and malaria. I'm not too worried about catching either leprosy or malaria in North Dakota. If I'm ever on a cruise ship when Norwalk Virus strikes, I will not be immune. But then, I don't plan on going on any cruises either, especially not after the horror stories that came out about those cruises last year. I am also not among the lucky 5 to 14 percent of people of European descent who are partially immune to HIV/AIDS, though I think even those who are immune should avoid taking too many chances.
Most of the information 23andme provides is like this, actually, and I can't see myself doing too many things differently because of what I've learned. More useful information, like your odds of developing heart disease or stroke or different types of cancer, is available, but even then 23andme will only say you have an average or moderate or high risk of developing a disease. Even those with higher odds are not necessarily going to develop cancer or heart disease. The advice 23andme gives on its site is the same advice you have been getting from your doctor all these years: eat sensibly, exercise and try to keep the weight off. These things are easier for some of us to do than others, but we're all capable of it. Just as importantly, having a lower risk of developing a certain condition or disease doesn't mean you won't get it. According to my test results, I have a lower risk of developing high near-sightedness than average. However, I am so near-sighted that I am nearly legally blind without my glasses. The state of North Dakota will not allow me to drive without wearing corrective lenses.
I think the site may be of a bit more interest to people who are planning on having children in the near future and have relatives with genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis. This test will tell you if you carry any of the common mutations that might be passed down to your children. But that sort of thing might be better done with the guidance of a genetic counselor who can tell you what the test results mean for your family.
I had a pretty good idea of my ancestry and what diseases run and do not run in my family before I took this test. I might have been more reluctant to do it if I thought there might be some unpleasant surprises running through my bloodline. But even if there had been, I think it is better to know than not to know. Once you have all the information, you can decide how to manage it and improve your chances of staying healthy.
Now I will be waiting to see if this site will help me connect with any Finnish fourth cousins.
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