SelfDecode review – Can you “hack” your genes?

Rating based on our SelfDecode review

7 facts from our SelfDecode review

  1. SelfDecode location: United Kingdom
  2. Products: genetic testing and DNA data upload
  3. Reports: disease risks and traits; regular updates; tools to explore DNA data 
  4. Raw data access: yes
  5. Privacy: provides a detailed list of utilized security technologies
  6. Cost: $59-$289; requires subscription; no free options
  7. Alternatives: Nebula Genomics (free options available), Genetic Genie (free), Promethease ($12)

Introduction

This is a review of SelfDecode, a personalized DNA testing and digital health company founded in 2016 by biohacker Joe Cohen. Cohen also started SelfHacked, an online library of blogs on genetic and health research, and Lab Test Analyzer, a site that provides recommendations based on your genes.

Cohen describes SelfDecode as a service for people who want to use genetic information to optimize their health. To help you do this, SelfDecode provides science-based reports explaining medical conditions associated with genetic variation in different genes. The company also offers tools to explore your genome and a blog connecting your DNA to genetic research. 

SelfDecode products

SelfDecode has options for customers who are new to genetic testing and those who already have raw genetic data from most DNA analysis websites.

For people who already have compatible DNA data, SelfDecode costs $59 per year or $199 for a lifetime subscription. For those who don’t, the SelfDecode test kit starts at $90. 

The main features of SelfDecode are the DNA wellness reports, and the Personalized Genetics Blog, which has articles on genetic research. 

Review of SelfDecode DNA Wellness Reports

SelfDecode reports analyze your DNA for specific conditions, explain the function of different genes, and offer recommendations based on your genotype.

To start, all users receive the basic personalized health report. It looks at genes associated with nutrition, fitness, and cognition/personality. Users also have access to three free reports a year, with the option to purchase more. Depending on your health goals, you can choose from the following:

  • Inflammation
  • Cardiovascular
  • Sleep
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Mood
  • ApoE (a protein involved in metabolizing fats)
  • Fitness
  • Cognitive function
  • MTHFR gene (encodes proteins to process the vitamin folate)
  • Longevity 

The reports start with a summary of traits associated with different genes and the health conditions you might be at risk for. For example, this Mood Report for founder Joe Cohen emphasizes Joe’s higher risk for depressed and anxious moods. 

Example of the SelfDecode Mood report.
Figure 1. Example of the SelfDecode Mood report.

After the summary, the report breaks down which SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism, also referred to as “variant”) you have and the associated risk: 

List of SNPs that are associated with mood disorders.
Figure 2. List of SNPs that are associated with mood disorders.

The report provides a detailed explanation of each SNP and your personal genotype. For instance, the SNP rs1800497 is part of the DRD2 gene which encodes a dopamine receptor. Joe’s genotype, AG, means he is likely to have fewer DRD2 receptors and therefore is at risk of negative moods. 

A detailed explanation of SNP associated with mood disorders.
Figure 3. A detailed explanation of SNP associated with mood disorders.

The reports are meant to be for informational and educational purposes only. SelfDecode does not treat, diagnose or cure conditions. However, they do give advice on how to counterbalance the negative impacts of some genetic variants. For example, Joe’s Mood reports suggest that regular exercises can boost his DRD2 dopamine receptors levels. 

Review of SelfDecode Personalized Genetics Blog

Anyone can access the blog and read the articles, but for SelfDecode customers, each article comes with a personalized score based on their DNA. The results are classified as “good”, “neutral” or “bad” depending on how your genotype influences the risk of disease. This provides personalized insight into how your health might be impacted by the findings discussed in the article. 

There are multiple blogs published every month on topics like inflammation, respiratory infections, blood sugar, or susceptibility to COVID-19. You can filter posts by category, i.e. brain or inflammation, or use the search function to look for articles on a specific gene or condition. This allows you to easily find articles related to topics relevant to your health. 

The posts all follow a similar format. The name of the gene being discussed is included in the title, and then the post starts with an explanation of what the gene does. 

For example, Figure 4 shows a blog post that breaks down the genetics of lactose intolerance. 

Post on Lactose Intolerance on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog along with a “neutral” score.
Figure 4. Post on Lactose Intolerance on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog along with a “neutral” score.

The article starts by explaining the condition and then discusses the basic biology and genetics of how lactose intolerance occurs in the body (Figure 5).

Explanation of lactose and lactose intolerance.
Figure 5. Explanation of lactose and lactose intolerance.

Then, the genes that play a role in the condition are explained. In this case, the article focuses on the MCM6 and LCT genes (Figure 6). 

Explanation of genes in a post on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.
Figure 6. Explanation of genes in a post on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.

The post then breaks down the variants that can affect how these genes work (Figure 7). 

Explanation of genetic variants on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.
Figure 7. Explanation of genetic variants on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.

Finally, the user is given his genotypes for the analyzed variants along with their impact on disease risk (Figure 8).

Table with genetic variants on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.
Figure 8. Table with genetic variants on the SelfDecode Personalized Genetics blog.

Each post is well-cited, with links to published studies. In most articles, however, the studies are from the last few years rather than the last few months. While there are exceptions, like this article on ACE2 and COVID-19, most of the blog posts are a summary of information, not articles on cutting-edge research. 

Review of other SelfDecode tools

Your genetic information is organized into health categories and lists of genes, called “gene packs,” to help you easily see which gene variants might be impacting your health the most (Figure 9). 

SelfDecode GenePacks categorize genes and variants.
Figure 9. SelfDecode GenePacks categorize genes and variants.

There are lists of so-called “bad genes” that are associated with negative conditions. For instance, you might find you have a variant in the ADAM33 gene that is associated with asthma. There are also lists of what SelfDecode considers rare and important SNPs in your genome. 

For instance, under the “Aging” topic and the “Eyesight” category, if you may have certain alleles for the SNP rs6726395. Those alleles might put you at an increased risk for age-related macular degeneration. That is, you might be at risk of losing your eyesight as you get older.

SelfDecode also offers tools for searching your genome. These include searching for genetic variants by condition, like asthma, or by substance, like coffee or ibuprofen. SelfDecode tools like the substance explorer then show you the genes and variants in your genome that are related to your searches.

Review of SelfDecode Privacy

SelfDecode promises to never sell or share customer data with third parties without explicit consent unless required by law. If the company receives a court order or search warrant for your genetic information, SelfDecode says it will notify you, if possible. 

For users concerned about privacy, SelfDecode suggests using a pseudonym. Otherwise, the company collects as little identifying information as possible. 

To further protect your information, SelfDecode says only “vetted and trusted” employees have access to the backend of the site. Additionally, only one person has access to the text files of data. 

Other security measures used by the company include:

  • Secure SSL Certified Connections
  • Script Protection
  • Disk Write Protections
  • Plugin Access Restriction
  • External Security Penetration Testing
  • Annual SAS 70 Type II Examinations
  • Encryption of All Backup Media
  • Maintain Audit Logs

In the News

SelfDecode hasn’t made much headway in the mainstream news in the four years since it was founded.  Joe Cohen, the founder, is mentioned in Scientific American and featured on the podcast Evergreen Profits. Notably, Cohen made headlines in 2017 when he offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who found him a girlfriend. Two years later, he appeared on Good Morning Britain with his girlfriend to discuss how SelfDecode helped her learn to treat her mood issues. 

SelfDecode Reviews

SelfDecode reviews are featured on the SelfDecode website, but there aren’t many available on other review websites. There are mentions on Reddit and a few SelfDecode reviews on DNAtestingchoice.com

Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Tools for exploring your DNANo ancestry or genealogy tools
Variety of reports available with recommendations based on your geneticsNo reviews on third-party sites
Can import DNA data or buy a genetic testAdditional reports cost more
Blog with articles on research

Nebula Genomics

In this final part of our SelfDecode review, we will compare SelfDecode to Nebula Genomics and other DNA testing companies. Nebula Genomics distinguishes itself from SelfDecode and other DNA testing websites through our focus on privacy, our research library, and our DNA sequencing-based test. 

Privacy

At Nebula Genomics, we are privacy-focused. We are developing cryptographic technologies to enable secure genetic testing and DNA data analysis. We also enable our users to share their DNA data with researchers without risking their privacy.

Nebula Research Library

Our understanding of human genetics is advancing every day. With the Nebula Research Library, you can find articles explaining the newest research and studies. This provides insights into the most current information about your genetics.

Free DNA reports

We offer our users free expanded DNA reports. When you upload raw DNA data from 23andMe or AncestryDNA to Nebula Genomics, we use a process called imputation to fill in the gaps in your genetic data. The result is a report on hundreds of genetic traits. 

Whole Genome Sequencing

For even more information about your genome, our new 30x Whole-Genome Sequencing decodes your entire genome. That is 10,000 times more information than other testing companies like SelfDecode provide. 

Here is a comparison of SelfDecode vs Nebula Genomics and other popular DNA testing companies:

  SelfDecode 23andMe AncestryDNA Nebula Genomics 
Focused on privacy No No No Yes (learn more). 
Free DNA data uploadNo No No Yes. Imputation generates an expanded report. 
Updates based on new research NoNo No Yes, weekly updates (learn more).
Tools to explore data Yes Limited Limited Yes (learn more). 
Ancestry reporting No Yes YesDeep ancestry reporting with full Y chromosome and mtDNA sequencing in collaboration with FTDNA.
Cost   $59-$289 $99, $199, or $499 $99 or $149 $0 – $299

SelfDecode vs 23andMe vs AncestrDNA vs Nebula Genomics

If you are interested in tools to explore your genetic data, you should also take a look at Genetic Genie. Unlike SelfDecode, Genetic Genie is completely free. Another option to consider is Promethease.

Did you like our SelfDecode review? You can find more reviews here!

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