You’ve been taking care of your health, eating right, using your Altrua HealthShare membership for a yearly wellness visit, and getting in that all important Zone 2 cardio.

But there’s one more thing you might want to consider to shed some more light on your health.

A genetic ancestry test.

The first genetic test offered to the public was from a company called Family Tree DNA in 2000. Today, many people across the world have sent in saliva samples or blood samples to testing groups to find out more about their heritage and history. It’s a fascinating experience, to see where your ancestors came from and what your unique genetics are built from.

But that’s not the only information you’ll get today.

More and more companies have entered the market, with testing methods that continue to improve. Genetic ancestry testing is widely available and affordable. And with larger groups of people now using these testing companies, there are more clues than ever to help us understand the interplay of genetics and our risk for developing certain diseases and conditions.

You can not only get information about where your great-great grandmother came from but you’ll also get information on everything from your risk to developing Type 2 diabetes to the odds that you have dimples on your cheeks. Some of the information is fun and fascinating, and some of it can give you a window into what conditions you could be at risk for and what changes you can make in your habits, nutrition, and exercise to mitigate those risks. While these ancestry tests weren’t necessarily originally designed for diagnostics, they can provide important insight into health conditions and genetic risks. (In a recent article in the New York Times, these were their top three favorite consumer genetic ancestry tests.)

On the Disney+ documentary series Limitless, actor and producer Chris Hemsworth undergoes an ancestry genetics test. He learns he is at a higher than average risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that impacts the brain with significant memory loss and loss of cognitive function. As a result of this information, Hemsworth begins a new health protocol to protect his brain, including making sleep a priority, continuing to learn new activities and skills, and upping his protein and veggie consumption. His ancestry test helps him make changes today that can have a significant impact on his genetic predisposition in the coming years.

It’s a great model for how we can look at our own DNA results and apply them, instead of fearing them.

It’s the combination of the information you can glean about your genetic makeup from a DNA test and epigenetics that can make a big difference in your health. Epigenetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is “the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.” 1 What this means is that, just because you have a genetic predisposition for a condition does not mean that developing the condition is inevitable. Epigenetics takes a look at changes you can make to your habits and your overall environment to help your genes not be triggered into particular conditions. While this doesn’t mean that someone could overcome every kind of genetic predisposition, the study of epigenetics is revealing exciting ways that we can participate in protecting and enhancing our genetic story.

Here are a few ways that the genetics test you took to learn more about your heritage in the past could also hold clues to your health in the future:

    1. Medication interactions. Not all people respond the same to medications. Your genetic information could help inform you and your doctor about sensitivities and responses you could have to prescriptions and over-the-counter remedies. This is an area of research that continues to grow. While testing isn’t available for all drug interactions with your genetics, there are several medications/genetics that can be and are conducted by your physician, including drug treatments for breast cancer, HIV, epilepsy and blood thinners.2
    2. Lifestyle glow-up. When you have the data right in front of you, it’s hard to deny. If your ancestry test shows that you have certain increased risks for conditions based on your genetics, it could be just the push you need to make changes to your lifestyle. Cutting back on processed foods, increasing your sleep, being more diligent about removing sugar from your diet, these kinds of changes can help your overall health and can help hold certain genetic predispositions at bay.
    3. Get ahead of the curve. When you have a better understanding of your genetics, it can help you inform your physician about certain conditions to be on the lookout for and can also help you and your physician be more strategic about preventative tests and symptoms. Because every human is so unique, having your genetic information can allow you and your provider to create a more customized health plan for you.There are some controversies surrounding consumer genetics tests, including issues surrounding privacy and genealogy results you might not have suspected, for example, finding out you have a half-sibling you didn’t know about. Before taking an ancestry test, you’ll want to determine your own level of comfort about these issues.3 But if you’ve already taken one of these tests or choose to, make sure and mention the information you discover to your primary care provider. Your results could just hold the clues to making your future a healthier one.