Recently I was offered a trail membership to the DNAFit service. The service provides specific health recommendations (exercise and diet) based on access to your 23andMe SNP data. This kind of thing is right up my alley so I jumped at the chance to try out the service. Unfortunately 23andMe has been prohibited from providing health results to customers by the FDA, but for people who have already obtained health data from 23andMe, it’s still possible to get recommendations from DNAFit.
I was offered a coupon to apply to various DNAFit services on an a la carte basis. I chose to apply the coupon the diet recommendations as that interests me more than exercise recommendations. Thus, this review only applies to the Diet recommendations on DNAFit, and excludes the Fitness section.
The DNAFit is attractively designed, but I found the interface to be a little confusing. There is a collapsed view of your results that looks like this:
and an expanded view that looks like this:
So you can click on one of thirteen boxes in various shades of burgundy, and that box expands to fill out the three panel row (with vertical scroll bars on the rightmost two panels). Maybe I’m just slow to pick up on new interfaces, but it took me a minute to figure out how to get to all the data. I would have preferred a single large pop-up screen or panel without any scroll bars.
Most of the health recommendations seemed reasonable to me, and matched up with my own trial-and-error results regarding what works for me in terms of diet and nutrition. However, some of the recommendations (like limiting my saturated fat intake to 10% of my total caloric intake) seemed off-base, and made me wonder what studies the recommendations were based on. Human or animal studies? One-off or well-replicated studies? Tiny or large sample sizes? Unfortunately this information does not seem to be included.
Maybe the designers wanted to keep the interface simple and clean and not overwhelm their customers with data. However, since 100% of their potential customer base are early 23andMe adopters (health nerds), I strongly believe they should be erring on the side of providing too much data. 23andMe provides detailed citations for each health result (see below). Why not do the same?
The complete list of diet results includes:
- Ideal Diet
- Carbohydrate Sensitivity
- Saturated Fat Sensitivity
- Detox Ability
- Antioxidant Needs
- Omega-3 Needs
- Vitamin B Needs
- Vitamin D Needs
- Salt Sensitivity
- Alcohol Sensitivity
- Caffeine Sensitivity
- Lactose Intolerance
- Coeliac Predisposition
The most interesting results for me were that I supposedly have an increased need for anti-oxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin D. According to their results I am also susceptible to high blood pressure if I consume too much salt, possibly gluten intolerant, and have no trouble with digesting milk products.
I’ve come to many of the same conclusions from my own experiments (for example, I got rid of my asthma by reducing gluten and supplementing with vitamin D and fish oil). However, some of the recommendations seem premature, or too vague. DNAFit recommends that I consume a certain amount of B vitamins based on my heterozygous MTHFR, but they don’t specify if I should get those vitamins from food or supplements.
My MTHFR results show that my body methylates inefficiently; thus I’m less able than most to convert supplemental folic acid to its methylated, biologically available form (folate). And if I consume too much folic acid that could even make folate less available. Folic acid supplementation has even been associated with increased cancer risk. Vitamin B6 and B12 are also only useable in their methylated forms (and most vitamin B supplements are not methylated). In addition to all this, I have personally noticed negative effects from supplementing with B vitamins (asthma, insomnia, agitation). B vitamins are complicated, and I think DNAFit would be better off specifying food-based sources. To their credit, DNAFit does provide a lists of foods high in the various B vitamins they are recommending.
Users are able to download a PDF of their complete health report. The report is attractively designed, well-written, and includes detailed health recommendations which seemed for the most part reasonable. My only complaint is that I wanted DNAFit to “show their work” (include citations) so I could drill down and decided for myself in regards to some of their recommendations.
If it were my decision I would provide all the health reports for a single flat fee. This might reduce early revenue, but it would almost certainly build the customer base and increase word-of-mouth marketing.
Obviously, to use the DNAFit service, you need to provide the company access to your genetic data via 23andMe. This is a personal decision — it’s perfectly understandable if you’re not comfortable doing this. For me, curiosity usually outweighs caution. Here is the company’s privacy statement.
Would I Recommend This Service?
I like this service, but I’m not quite ready to recommend it. With a few easy fixes I would be happy to recommend DNAFit. Here’s a summary of what I think needs immediate fixing:
- Offer a flat, reasonable pricing plan (pay once for all reports).
- Provide citations (even if buried at the end of the health report).
I also think the interface could be made more intuitive, and I would change the B vitamin recommendation as described above, but those are minor quibbles.
My guess is that 23andMe will eventually gain FDA approval (the company is based in the UK so I suppose they are not subject to FDA regulations re: health recommendations), and at that point DNAFit may see their potential customer base expand significantly. I think the company is offering a valuable service and I wish them the best of luck.