Hello everyone, and welcome to another of my reviews. In this article, I review my experience with CircleDNA, the widely popular genetics testing company.

I first heard of CircleDNA when Tech In Asia reported that Prenetics (the Hong Kong parent company of CircleDNA) hired Joel Neoh (ex-Fave boss) as the group’s chief consumer officer and managing director of CircleDNA. A marketing blitz quickly followed, which saw numerous local influencers promoting their products. This piqued my interest, so I promptly contacted CircleDNA to see if they could send me a Premium Test Kit for review (which they did). Here’s how it went.

CircleDNA – Video

For those interested in taking a closer look at the CircleDNA app and the report, do watch the Youtube video below:

CircleDNA – the Packaging

The CircleDNA Premium Test Kit comes in a sleek black and gold aesthetic, making for an upscale first impression.

The CircleDNA Premium Test Kit.

I like that the package was sealed – a little detail that goes a long way.

The first item that greets you is the welcome letter wrapped in a “Circle of Change” bracelet, which reflects the company’s belief in being and enabling changemakers.

The welcome letter looks handwritten, but I believe it’s a mimicry – I can’t imagine the CEO handwriting such a lengthy note for every package. I found the company’s core belief of “prevention, not treatment” intriguing though – I’ll discuss more about this concept later in the article.

Of course, the most important part of the package is the DNA collection kit.

First, clients have to scan a QR code to download the CircleDNA app. They then register their DNA kit, and the app keeps the client abreast of the process (shipping, extraction, testing, etc), with the eventual DNA report also accessible via the app.

Before contributing the actual sample, a 30-minute “fasting” period (no food, drink, gum or smoking) is required. I suppose this increases the accuracy of the DNA testing by preventing any potential contaminants.

The collection process is fairly simple and involves a cheek swab. Notably, this is different from some of its competitors, which use a saliva sample instead.

To prevent any mix-up, each test tube is labelled with a unique barcode that’s tagged to your registered account. Overall, I found the swabbing process to be easy and fuss-free – reminiscent of COVID self-testing.

Once done, simply place the tube in the provided return bag, and ship it back to CircleDNA via the provided FedEx label.

CircleDNA – the Results

After about 3 weeks, I received my personalised DNA report.

CircleDNA claims it provides the most comprehensive DNA testing on the market, and judging by the 84-page report that I received, that would appear to be the case. The report includes a wide range of categories, such as diet and nutrition, sports and fitness, ancestry, health and disease risk, and even behavioural and personality traits.

CircleDNA states that its comprehensiveness is possible due to its use of Whole Exome Sequencing (WES), which is supposedly one of the most advanced DNA testing techniques in the market. I’m not a scientist – I didn’t even take Biology in school – so I won’t dive deep into the science of WES. Those interested in learning more about the specifics can head over to CircleDNA’s website, which includes a dedicated page on how the technology works here.

I found several aspects of my CircleDNA report eminently interesting, one of which was the Diet section. In the report, CircleDNA recommends that I follow a low-carb diet due to a higher sensitivity to carbs. Interestingly, I find myself being sluggish and sleepy after consuming carb-heavy meals, so I decided to follow CircleDNA’s diet suggestion.

The rest of the diet section is fairly accurate – I do have a higher sensitivity to spice, a propensity to indulge in sweets, and an avoidance of leafy greens. Interestingly, I learnt that I’m likely to be lactose intolerant. That would explain why I usually feel an urge to use the bathroom after drinking lattes or milk teas (I’ve previously chalked it up to the caffeine). Because of this, I’ve tried my best to eliminate milk and dairy from my diet, even swapping out ice cream for sorbets.

Another section I found interesting was the sports and fitness report, which recommends that I focus on strength-based training instead of endurance. To put it simply, I should be doing more weight lifting at the gym instead of running on the treadmill.

For the longest time, I’ve concentrated on cardio activities in the gym to lose weight (treadmill, rowing machine, inclined walk, etc), but unfortunately to little effect. Furthermore, I often felt drained and lethargic afterwards. After CircleDNA’s recommendation, I’ve decided to pivot to a strength-based fitness regime, focusing more on weight lifting and power sports (I’m currently doing Muay Thai), while still playing tennis weekly for that little bit of endurance and cardio. It’s still early days, but the results have been promising – I feel less tired overall, and it’s also more sustainable.

DNA testing was first spearheaded by American companies such as 23andMe. The raison d’etre of these companies was simple – they were able to trace your ancestry through your DNA. The premise caught on like wildfire, and till today people still pay through their nose for a simple ancestry test. Being a “comprehensive” DNA test, CircleDNA’s premium test kit also includes an ancestry report, though (unlike its main competitors) it’s not the main focus. Nevertheless, it was intriguing to discover that I was 100% East Asian – specifically 1/8 Japanese/Korean, which might explain my love for anime (One Piece) and manhwa (Solo Levelling). This means that one of my great-grandparents was Japanese/Korean, which is probable considering the WW2 timeline. And as my grandparents immigrated from China to Singapore, it also makes sense that I would have 0% Southeast Asian blood in me. That being said, CircleDNA’s ancestry report doesn’t go into much detail (unlike its other segments), so if you’re simply looking to know your ancestry you might want to consider some of its other (cheaper) competitors instead.

Instead, CircleDNA focuses more on the data points that aid prevention, including one’s behavioural and personality traits. I was pleased to know that I’m (genetically at least) not predisposed to alcohol, food and smoking addiction.

Initially, I was sceptical about whether a DNA test based on a simple cheek swab could predict one’s personality. And while the personality report isn’t as detailed as say, a MBTI test, I found it to be fairly accurate. Interestingly, CircleDNA includes a bunch of references and research journal in its app that explains the link between one’s genes and personality.

However, the most useful segments of the report are those related to medical diseases. We all know that genetics affects our propensity to develop certain diseases, so I was curious to see the results. CircleDNA states that I have an elevated risk of high cholesterol and hypertension, and it was right on the nose.

I recently went for a health screening, which also stated that I have an increased risk of hypertension (a whooping 5 times higher than average, apparently) and high cholesterol. In other words, the CircleDNA report reinforced the results of my recent health screening, making it abundantly clear that I do have to change my lifestyle to decrease my risk of hypertension and high cholesterol.

Similarly, the segment on cancer risk helps clients identify which cancers they are predisposed to. For example, if the report states that you’re genetically susceptible to prostate cancer, then you can book an appointment with a urologist to ensure that there are no anomalies. However, it is important to note that one’s lifestyle still plays an important role – if you smoke a pack of cigarettes daily, you are still at risk of developing lung cancer.

CircleDNA’s report checks for 34 different forms of cancer, making it one of the most comprehensive in the market. Thankfully, no cancer-causing mutations were detected in my case.

However, not all of the results were accurate. For example, CircleDNA’s test results state that I’m a “morning lark”, but I’m definitely more of a night owl – I do my best work after midnight.

The report also states that I should have excellent mathematical skills, which is unfortunately not the case – I’m much better with words (I hope) than I am with numbers and calculations.

The latter section of the 84-page report is dedicated to Drug Response. Even though it’s the lengthiest segment (30 pages), I found it to be the least useful.

For one, I was unfamiliar with the majority of the drugs – even the “commonly prescribed” ones. I also showed the results to my healthcare provider, who relayed that healthcare professionals in Singapore would only titrate the dosages of prescribed medication with supporting documents, such as a doctor’s memo or a specialist’s letter. In other words, consumer genetic testing results are unlikely to hold much sway in getting doctors to alter the dosages of their prescriptions.

Conclusion – so CircleDNA Premium DNA Test “shiok” or not?

CircleDNA claims to be the “world’s most comprehensive DNA test”, and they certainly delivered on that front. Its 84-page report provides over 500 genetic insights, which are gleaned from 31 million data points (the majority of which are from Asian clients) – the largest in the market. I found most of the insights to be accurate and useful, and have made several changes to my lifestyle by following a low-carb diet, strength-based fitness training, and paying closer attention to my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It was also fun to discover my partial Japanese/Korean ancestry, and a relief to know that I don’t have any genetic predisposition to cancer. While not all of the insights were accurate or practical, the CircleDNA Premium Test exceeded my expectations overall by allowing me to understand what works best for my body.

The biggest drawback of CircleDNA’s premium kit is its high MSRP of $899. The brand acknowledges its premium positioning, stating that “while CircleDNA kits may be more expensive than other DNA tests, the cost reflects the advanced technology and comprehensive data analysis that is used to generate the results”. Nevertheless, $899 is a tad pricey, so I’ve asked CircleDNA if they could provide a discount for my readers. I’m happy to report that those interested in purchasing a premium kit can use the promo code WAHSOSHIOK40 for 40% off one test kit, WAHSOSHIOK50 for three test kits or more, and WAHSOSHIOK55 for eight test kits or more. That brings the cost down to $539, $449, and $405 respectively. That’s still a significant chunk of change, but I’ll argue that it’s worth it given the comprehensive R&D cost involved and the fact that the Premium kit is a one-time purchase. After all, health is priceless.

Learn more about CircleDNA’s premium kit here.

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