More 23andMe Tips: Using the Family Inheritance Feature

As promised last Friday, I am following up my last post with another post on tips to help with your 23andMe relative finding endeavors!

I recently shared genomic data with a woman who was born around the same time as my grandmother.  We haven’t figured out our common ancestor yet, but from looking at our genomic data we share 10Mb of data on the X chromosome.  According to 23andMe, the region that we have in common contains genetic information related to female fertility.  Pretty interesting from a health and wellness perspective!

I know from chatting with some of the folks that I have met in the community that not everyone knows where to find this information.  This is what I am going to share with you today.

Log in to the service and navigate to Family Inheritance.  At the top, you will see an option “Compare the genome of” (yourself) “To the genome of” (people with whom you share genomic data) — Note:  names are hidden to keep member data private

Select yourself from the left hand column and begin going through your connections from the right hand column.  Initially, you will be looking at a Genome-Wide Comparison of yourself 1:1 against your connections.

When you find a shared segment of DNA (as I found a half-identical segment in the above picture in blue), you can then narrow your focus & look at specific genes per the options on the right hand side of the screen (Bitter Tasting, Circadian Rhythm, Endurance, Female Fertility, etc.)

You may be lucky and find your common ancestor after a few brief emails back and forth with a contact.  In most instances it will likely be more challenging, but after you find your common ancestry with one member the Family Inheritance feature can help you narrow down other relationships.  For instance, I met a predicted 4th cousin who also had a paternal aunt using the service.  He, his aunt, and I all share a half-identical section of DNA and therefore we could immediately focus on my 4th cousins paternal side to find our connection.

Happy relative finding!  As always, please feel free to comment on a post, email me directly, or Tweet any questions or comments!

Tips for Finding Relatives Quickly and Easily on 23andMe and Improving Your Odds That They Return Contact

I am a member of the 23andMe community.  For those of you not aware of 23andme, they are a personal genetic testing company located in Mountain View, California not far from my home.
If you are interested in wellness and in science (which I assume you are if you have found my blog!), then check out their site to learn more about their service.I tweeted today about how I had been able to find three 23andMe users with whom I had determined our relationships.  What I found really interesting was that the four of us are scattered around the world and didn’t see a link initially based on our last names or our listed surnames.  While our ages ranged from 30s to 80s, we all ended up being related via the same family line!

My tweet received a reply from a 23andMe member who wanted to know if I had any tips on how to make the Relative Finder process less intimidating.  For example, when I log in, I can see 352 people who are predicted third cousins to “distant” cousins.  Most are just listed as “Male” or “Female,” so unless a member has made their profile public it can be tough to decide where to begin.  A second tweet came shortly after from @akhomenko via Twitter asking me to share my tips widely.  Seemed a perfect topic for today’s blog, so here goes!

Tip #1 — Go for the Low-hanging Fruit!
Log in to the service and navigate to Relative Finder.
At the top, you will see an option to sort your list in a variety of ways.
Select “Sort by Last Name”.  This will bring you all of the users with public profiles to whom there is a predicted relationship.  Scan the list of names to see if anything rings a bell and go from there.  If nothing looks familiar to you, then select the person who has the highest percentage of DNA in common with you.  I have found that members with public profiles are more responsive to direct messages and tend to share more in their profiles.  When you invite someone to share genomes make sure to customize the message!  Receiving a message that looks like it was written by a computer program is about as exciting as opening junk mail at home.  I find that I get the greatest response when I make the other party curious enough to answer my message.  Make it personal!  I might say something like this:

Hi Jennifer,

23andMe has identified us as potential 3rd cousins with .24% DNA in common, so we are definitely related.  I’d like to share stories with you to see if we can determine how we are related.  I hope to hear from you soon.



Tip #2 — Sort by Percent Shared
Still in Relative Finder, select “Sort by Percent Shared” from the drop-down menu.
Now you are going to see those members with whom you share the most DNA.  In my case, many of these are NOT public profiles, so you have to start out by sending an introductory message.  Again, customizing the message will increase the likelihood that the other person writes you back because you have peaked their curiousity.  For folks in this category, I started by those with whom I shared the greatest percentage of DNA.  The person at the top of my list and I shared .76% DNA, and we were quick to determine how we were related after sharing surnames.  With some of the other connections, I’ve really had to go through my family tree database (which luckily I had handed down to me by a first cousin of my grandmother that I met randomly via!)

This should get you started making a few initial connections.  In my next post, I will talk about how you can use the Compare Genes and Family Inheritance features to help you even further.

Enjoy the weekend!

Five Tips to Keep You Feeling Energized

Summer is my favorite time of year, but the really hot days, increased activity, and travel can leave you feeling completely exhausted!  An extra espresso shot just doesn’t seem to do the trick.  Here are 5 tips to keep you feeling energetic so you can get the most out of the summer months!

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  Our bodies are made up of between 60 to 70 percent water.  We need water to regulate temperature, to transport oxygen to our cells, to remove waste from our system, and of course to supply our bodies with nutrients.  Drink water first thing in the morning and try to remember to keep doing so throughout the day.  I find this hydration calculator a very nice tool to determine how much water we actually need per day based on our activity level, as well as other factors:

  1. Stay positive!  Does dealing with office politics or difficult family members leave you feeling drained?  I know it has that effect on me.  Try and counter the negativity by spending time with people who uplift you.  This may be easier said than done in the workplace, but it is far less energy zapping to avoid the office gossip.  If your regular lunch bunch spends too much time complaining, try going for a lunch-time walk on your own once in awhile.  You will be surprised how much more inspired and energized you may feel.

  1. Get moving!  I have been suffering from jet lag since returning from vacation last week.  I have been so tired; the last thing I felt like doing was exercising.  I went for a brisk walk for both the cardiovascular activity and exposure to sunlight to help with the jet lag.  I felt so much better once I spent a few minutes outdoors!  Ignore the little voice telling you to sleep for an extra hour and get moving!  A few minutes of stretching each day goes a long way as well, especially if you have been cramped on an airplane for several hours.
  1. Stay on top of the clutter.  For years, I let the unimportant mail and documents to shred pile up until the pile toppled over.  Just looking a pile of mail to be opened made me want to take a nap!  I made a decision to stay on top of the clutter so it wasn’t such a dreaded chore.  Got an untidy garage?  Consider donating furniture, clothing, and small appliances that you haven’t used in ages to a local community non-profit or check out to see if a neighbor may be able to use something you are ready to part with!
  1. Don’t forget to breathe!  Just like water is such a critical component to our health and energy level, so is oxygen!  Deep breathing promotes relaxation and a healthy lymphatic system.  If you can do simple breathing exercises on your own — great!  If not, I have found some gentle and restorative yoga classes to be very helpful in teaching the art of mindful breathing.

I hope you find these 5 tips for staying energized helpful!  If you have comments or other suggestions, I would love to hear from you!

Prevention is Powerful Medicine

Earlier this year, I attended the Personalized Medicine World Conference in Mountain View, CA.  One of the speakers started out his presentation posing several questions to the audience:

“How many of you are physicians?
How many of you are scientists?
How many of you are venture capitalists?”

Several hands went up after each question was posted.  His last question to us was, “How many of you are patients?”  At that point, EVERY hand in the room was raised.  That was the single commonality among each of us in that room, and that is something that binds each and every one of US together.  What a powerful message he was bringing to us!

As a collective of patients, we had become a community of healthcare consumers where we could share and discuss our opinions and experiences about disease, about health and wellness, about traditional versus alternative care.

When it boils down to it, no one is more invested in our own health and wellness than we are ourselves.  Our health care providers, our friends, and our families care for us and want us to be healthy.  But it is up to each one of us to stay that way, and we have choices.  Educate yourself, practice prevention, and live a happier, healthier life!

My Mind Over Mood Challenge

Mind Over Mood |

This has been an interesting week for me. I started out in a bit of a funk — trouble concentrating, feeling moody, low energy. On Monday, I forced myself outdoors for a ten minute walk — that was all that I could muster. On Tuesday, I was still not a happy camper. I tried to concentrate on my work in the morning, but my creative juices were not flowing. I headed to the gym late in the afternoon for a 50-minute gentle yoga class.

Last week this yoga class was JUST what I needed, however this week I left in a down mood and still a lack of ability to concentrate. I had a bowl of ice cream after dinner to “comfort myself” and ended up feeling nauseous instead. The one positive from Tuesday was that I ran into a friend and former neighbor when I was leaving yoga class and made plans to meet for lunch at a later date. There is always a bright side! I woke up on Wednesday, and I realized it was time for a major systems reboot! My diet had been pretty terrible since last week when I had a relative in town visiting. I wasn’t eating very much food, but my choices were not those that I know my body needs.

I woke up with an urge to juice and had a nice blend of banana, raspberries, blackberries, orange, and a little flax seed for good measure. Ahhhhh… just what I needed! Next, I psyched myself up for an outdoor run. I didn’t really feel like running, but I told myself to focus on the end result — the fresh air, the vitamin D from the beautiful sun that was FINALLY out, and let’s not forget the endorphins! I downloaded a couple of new songs from iTunes to add to my running playlist, and I was off. Before I hit the trail, I ran into yet another old neighbor that I hadn’t seen in years! Just the sight of her put a huge smile on my face and after our catch-up chat, there was nothing stopping me. I fired up Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” and enjoyed a nice run at the Palo Alto Baylands. I had forgotten how much I love that other runners (total strangers!) wave as they pass you, and I felt really blessed to be out there enjoying the beautiful day. I ate well, ending up randomly having Japanese food for both lunch and dinner. I went to bed feeling rested and content. This morning, I opted for a more challenging Vinyasa yoga class and left feeling strong, recharged, and with an inspiration to share my week with you. Even as a Wellness Scientist I forget my own needs sometimes, but I have learned to smile at my imperfections and to embrace these moments as a way to recenter myself and decide what my perfect balance looks like today. Just like the yoga class that was perfect last week left me longing for more this week, I know that next week will present me with yet another opportunity to rebalance myself. That’s doesn’t scare me. I’m taking it one day at a time!

What I Learned About Sustainable Eating

My aunt was visiting from Alexandria, Louisiana, the town where I grew up, and I thought an interesting outing for us would be a trip to the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. One of my favorite things about the summer is picking organic heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and herbs right out of our yard to make salads and pasta sauces. Until our own veggies are ready, I love shopping at local farmers’ markets for fresh, organic, local ingredients.
One of the first things that we sampled was a scrumptious vanilla cupcake from the Les Elements Patisserie booth. We planned to split the cupcake so that we could feel free to indulge on other goodies, so I asked the guy manning the booth for a knife. He explained that they didn’t have any knives or paper products because one of their goals is to reduce their impact on the environment. I was completely happy to use my coffee stirrer to cut the cupcake since eco-friendly living also a goal of mine.

After having dessert, we headed indoors for lunch (cupcakes get me every time…). We had steamed clams and the wild shrimp quesadilla daily special from Ferry Plaza Seafood — both dishes were delicious! What inspired me to write this blog post was an older gentleman from Wales who walked up to the bar and asked the waitress what made the shrimp “wild.” She explained the concept of sustainable fishing to the gentleman, and we all spent a few minutes chatting about the subject. Being a pescetarian and a fan of sustainable eating, I know a fair amount about sustainable fishing and even have the Seafood Watch app on my iPhone in case I need assistance at the grocery store. I learned a few things myself from the conversation, and I wanted to share it with you.

Sustainable food is better for people, animals, and the environment. A typical farm laborer or factory worker can work in dangerous conditions for very little pay with very few benefits. In a sustainable food system, workers are better compensated for their work, and in some situations are given fresh produce and even housing as benefits. Sustainable fishing targets specific species while helping to protect animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. It also ensures that our seafood is preserved and will be around for future generations. To learn more about sustainability, I highly recommend the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) website.

One thing I do hear often is that the cost of sustainable food is a deal-breaker. I’m not going to lie… when I see a pint of raspberries for $3 versus a $6 pint of organic, local raspberries, I do grimace a bit myself. Many times, however, the price of local high-quality sustainable ingredients is comparable to a lower-quality product grown in subpar conditions. We are not going to change every product that we buy overnight, but a few smart changes by educated consumers can effect change on the food industry and ultimately result in healthier, higher-quality products that we and our families deserve.

View Imbalance as an Opportunity

Ever have one of those weeks where you feel like you can’t keep up? This was one for me! Too many priorities and too little time!
I had to remind myself to breathe and to use this as an opportunity to put things in perspective.
Sometimes, we have to “lose our balance” to get it back. Instead of accepting that we will never achieve balance, taking a moment to reflect can often help us recover it.

mindfulness, balance

For me this week, I had a long list of “to do’s” for my business. I also decided that I was going to start to spend 10 minutes per day learning conversational Japanese for an upcoming trip, and I had some interesting new developments in the 23andme community that made me want to pull out hundreds of printed ancestry charts and start databasing to discover how I am related to someone with whom I had a DNA match. I didn’t want to admit that I had taken on too much, because I didn’t want to let anything go. However, I have been on edge this week & having trouble concentrating. I’ve been skipping meals and forgetting to drink water throughout the day. No wonder I was feeling frustrated!

I invite you to think about what types of imbalances have impacted you this week. Has this effected you physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Rather than letting it get you down or giving up on trying to find balance, view your imbalance as a opportunity to think about your needs and to rediscover your balance in a new light.

Be safe when using OTC medications

I don’t want to make any negative comments about any specific over-the-counter (OTC) medications out there, but I do want to stress how IMPORTANT it is to educate yourself about them before using them for your own safety.  For the purpose of this story, any medication that I talk about will be referred to as DrugX…

So I arrived at yoga class a few minutes early yesterday, and the instructor was there chatting with a few of the regular attendees.  She told us all that the class would be a little easier than usual because she was feeling under the weather.  She elaborated a bit on how she didn’t get much sleep and that she thought she was coming down with a cold.

Someone in class called out, “Have you tried DrugX?”
“No,” the teacher said.  “Is it good?”
“Oh yes,” the student replied.  “Someone told me about it in the locker room.  I tried it, and it really helped my cold.”
“I never try new over-the-counter cold medicines without talking to my doctor,” says the teacher, “but if you say it works then I’ll give it a try!”

A seemingly harmless and even helpful tidbit so it seemed, but my twelve years of experience as a drug safety professional had me cringing on my yoga mat!

First of all, DrugX is a brand-name that actually five or six products to choose from based on your symptoms.  All except one of the products is a combination product, meaning that it contains two or more ingredients to treat your cold symptoms.  Not everyone reads (or can see!) the tiny printed label on the back of the box called Drug Facts.  This contains important information like all of the active ingredients in the product, what the product’s intended use is, warnings, directions for use, etc.


Second, when the teacher began to talk about her symptoms, none of the 5 or 6 products in that brand family are actually used to treat her specific symptoms!  So, she would have been taking something that wouldn’t have made her feel any better and could have in fact made her symptoms worsen.

Honestly, most OTC medications are safe if used as directed.  However, if you are taking any other prescription or OTC meds please talk to your doctor or the pharmacist to determine if the new medication is right for you.

One last tidbit… OTC meds come in all forms — eye & ear drops, those taken orally, and even creams applied topically.  Be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage of a particular ingredient if you are using both an oral and a topical medication to treat a symptom or symptoms to avoid a potential overdose.

If you have been taking an OTC medication for several days and your condition is not improving, you should consult your doctor.  Always consult your doctor before taking any medication if you are pregnant or nursing.

Wishing you wellness!

Multi-tasking vs. Mindfulness: The Science of Stress

Let’s face it… we can keep saying that we are going to start taking care of ourselves more when things “go back to normal”, but our lives are just getting busier and more chaotic.A few years ago, I was spending 12 – 20 hours on a plane each week for my job.  For those 5-6 hours flying from Newark to San Francisco, I had undistracted time to work, nap, read, watch a movie or whatever!  The point is, no one could reach me.  Now, we’ve got internet access on planes, there is an app for just about everything, people are sadly texting while driving more than ever despite the harsh fines.  We are living in a world where multi-tasking is more commonplace than ever before.






I read an interview with a pioneer in the field of research, Dr. Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT.  He shares with us that there is really no such thing as true multitasking.  For example, when a teenager is doing homework, texting friends, and watching TV at the same time, these things are not actually being done simultaneously!  Actually, our brain switches focus from one thing to another, often resulting in loss of focus, and decreased quality of work.

No wonder we are exhausted!  That brings me to the subject of mindfulness.  Mindfulness meditation is defined as the practice of bringing an open and receptive awareness of the present moment to experiences, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future. It is thought to reduce stress and improve health outcomes across the board.  Stress is a known contributor to diseases such as depression and can exacerbate chronic disease such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, and some types of cancer.

While meditation is not for everyone, we can introduce mindfulness in small doses without being a master yogi or meditator.  Here are a few easy tips that have worked wonderfully to give my brain a break and reduce stress.

  • Ditch the TV during dinner time and eat your meals at the dinner table.  You actually taste your food while you are eating it, and it is much easier not to overeat when you eat mindfully.
  • Put down the cell phone while you are driving!  Hands-free chatting is a law now in many states, and texting is just plan dangerous.  We are all guilty of doing one of these things at least one time or another, but really… it’s not worth the risk to your life or someone elses.
  • We love our music when exercising, but every once in awhile leave the iPod at home.  Check out the scenery, breathe in the fresh air, and be alone with your own thoughts.  You may be surprised what you learn about yourself when you are listening.

The Science of Sleep

Are you a night owl or an early bird?  Personally, I don’t think I am either. However, research shows that a preference for being an early riser or a late sleeper is influenced by genetics.

how much sleep do you need

A study conducted at the University of California at San Francisco by Dr. Ying-Hui Fu and her team revealed a rare mutation in the gene DEC2 of a mother and daughter who needed only an average of 6.5 hours of sleep per night due to more intense REM sleep states.  People with this mutation (also called “short-sleepers”) appear to sleep more efficiently.

Think you are one of the lucky few?  The odds are stacked against you. Less than 3% of the population is said to carry this mutation.  For the other 97% of us, how do we find out how much sleep we need?  In seventh grade math class, I remember learning a formula for calculating how many hours of sleep we need at night based on our age throughout childhood.  Once we hit the age of 18, our sleep needs pretty much stay the same (between 7.5 to 9 hours) assuming the absence of certain medical conditions.

After feeling sleep deprived for close to two years, I took a long-needed sleep vacation!  I didn’t have to go anywhere other than my bed; I just had to prioritize this little but necessary experiment, and I was on my way to feeling better than I have in years.  Here’s what you need to do.

  • Carve out two weeks where you have some flexibility to go to bed at the same time every night & wake up without an alarm clock
  • Don’t worry… for the first couple of days you will sleep longer if you have been sleep deprived – your body’s way of paying off your “sleep debt”
  • Continue going to be at a consistent time and waking up naturally.  Within two weeks, you will establish a sleep pattern and obtaining the same amount of sleep each night

Nine hours ended up being my magic number.  No wonder I had felt sleep deprived!  I was getting between 6 and 7 hours of sleep every night for the past several years.

Need other tips for getting a good night’s sleep?  Make sure you are sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow, and limit television watching and computer use in the few hours before bedtime.  Try to exercise in the earlier part of the day and steer clear of late-night caffeine and alcohol intake.

Schedule your sleep vacation and follow this simple formula.  You’ll be sleeping like a rockstar before you know it.