Crowdsourcing Health Conditions

Click on the image above for the interactive visualization.

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

Some things just go together — peanut butter and jelly, cheese and crackers, Tango and Cash. Other things not so much, or, at least, not until you dig into the connections a little deeper.

In health, the connection between two or more health conditions is often intuitive. If you grind your teeth, it stands to reason that you would have pain symptoms around the jaw. It makes sense that a person who has eczema might also have other skin conditions like dandruff or psoriasis.

But the connection between other health conditions isn’t always so obvious. Digging into those connections, finding out if they are real, and, if they are real, why they might be related, can tell us a lot of about disease.

With that in mind, we’ve created a visualization of several dozen self-reported health conditions from more than 38,000 members of CureTogether, which 23andMe acquired in early July. CureTogether is a free resource for people to share information about diseases and treatments. This kind of data can be helpful to both members interested in comparing their own health issues with others, and researchers looking for deeper understanding of illnesses.

“(It) can give insights into the underlying biology of the conditions,” said Emily Chang, a scientist on 23andMe’s Science Content and Curation Team. “Perhaps there are genetic factors or environmental factors that predispose a person to both conditions.”

One condition might be a symptom of the other, but whatever the connection, exploring why two or more conditions might be related is essential.

“Accurate knowledge of a condition’s symptoms can aid biological understanding and improve diagnosis,” Emily said.

Daniel Reda, CureTogether’s co-founder and now a 23andMe Senior Product Manager worked with Emily to create the visualization. The two compiled more than 4.4 million points of data to show conditions and symptoms that have a statistically strong connection to each other.

“As we accumulate more data, we can replicate this type of analysis and this should help reveal which of the associations may be spurious and which are probably real,” said Daniel.

What Daniel and Emily have created is a sort of Wheel of Conditions. It shows connections between different conditions, diseases, and symptoms. Selecting a condition will highlight other conditions that are mostly likely to occur in common.

What you’ll see very quickly is that some of the connections, as we’ve said, just go together. Others, at first blush, may make you scratch your head, but digging a little may help explain the connection.

For example, why would anemia have a connection with infertility?

“(It) makes intuitive sense to me from an evolutionary perspective,” said Daniel. “The body would want to avoid the huge energy investment of pregnancy if the blood has potentially insufficient oxygen carrying capacity. In ancestral times, vitamin deficiency from food scarcity would have caused anemia, so it would make sense for the body to be able to turn off its reproductive potential until conditions improved.”

The wheel also shows some conditions, fibromyalgia for instance, are hubs for many others.

23andMe customers can participate in research by filling out surveys. Not yet a customer? Visit our store!

Emily suggests that in some cases a condition may have a broad range of symptoms — pain, depression or fatigue — accounting for multiple connections.

“The large number of causes, the large number of symptoms and the difficulty in accurately diagnosing the conditions probably all contribute to many connections between these conditions and others on the chart,” she said.

What’s exciting is that this is just a first step. Integrating 23andMe’s genotypic and phenotypic data may be able to reveal a deeper understanding of the causes of these conditions.

“Hopefully, (it will) lead to more insights,” Emily said. “With a larger database we will be able to be more accurate making connections and also will be able to make more connections. Genotypic information can add still more.”

Combining genetic and phenotype data from these two large data promises to bring new understanding to disease.






  • http://nextgenseek.com nextgenseek

    Nice visualization. Could you also post version with clustering based on similarities rather than the alphabetic order?

  • anil patwardhan

    interesting but the visualization has been done lots of times…e.g. cytoscape.

    Based on this population, it would be interesting to see if you could extract predicted risks for certain diseases conditional on the presence of other diseases- and have those predictions available for individual subjects.

  • Cornelia Moore

    I have been talking with my sister (who also tested with 23) off site, regarding 23 and me, Glutimates, and the health “web”, and this is what she said, in part and verbatum. (I got her ok to post it here)

    Neuorological disorders really began emerging in the early 1950′s – right after MSG was introduced to the US market, and has steadily increased ever since. Autism first showed up then, as did ‘hyperactivity’, which our brother was diagnosed with in 1953, shortly after I was born. He took ‘be good pills’ for years. I first read about autism in a magazine in 1967. I remember it vividly, because it was so horrifying. It was then a new mysterious disorder that had been quietly turning up for about 10 years, which fits right in with the introduction to MSG. By the 1970′s, all the neurological disorders that are now commonplace, were recognized and were already increasing. I don’t know what else was introduced to the US market in the years after WW2, but I do know glutamate ( originally in the form of MSG, but not in many forms, and under many names) was, and that it remains completely unregulated. What did show up in the 1970′s are hyper flavorings in candies, and that hyper flavoring is glutamate. Glutamate is also the ingredient behind the hyper energy drinks that are the raege now, so expect to see another surge in neurological disorders. Glutmate is a neurotoxin that is especially bad for the developing and the aging brain, and the only studies on it’s safety were done on healthy young adults – the demographic that is least affected. The latest discovery for treating nuerological disorders are glutamate blockers, which, so far as I am concenred, proves that glutamate is a widely known cause. This is the ONLY drug ever shown to be affective with ALS. Glutamate is an amino acid ( glutamic acid) . So is aspartame ( aspartic acid), which, I presume, is the sweetener you are referring to. Aspartame, which was intoroduced in the 1970′s, (google aspartame and Donald Rumsfeld) is also a neurotoxin. The difference between glutamate and aspartame is that because aspartame is deadly to people with one particular disorder, products containing it must be labeled accordingly, plus it is regulated. Babies the age to get autism, including the late appearing types, aren’t old enough to be fed the products that are sweetened with it, and though a few parents do it anyway, certainly not everyone with autism has had that exposure. Glutamate, however, is in literally everything we consume from cradle to grave, and because it is in everything, you’re getting dosed over and over again. . It’s in vaccines, pesticides, virtually all processed foods, and sometimes in very large amounts. On top of that, we get it in layers. It’s in pesticides, so it’s in our plants as they grow, and then added in the food. It’s not just in hamburger helper, etc, it’s in the meat even before it’s slaughtered, because glutamate is the product that is used to fatten animals before slaughter, and it is used in massive amounts for that purpose. I know this because I shopped for the product. Yes, this is also a very probable cause of obesity. It is, after all, the product that is used to fatten rats for obesity studies. We have no way of knowing how much is in a given food ( unless we produce our own) and we have no way of knowing even if it’s in that product, because of an industry that is called a label clensing industry. I subscribe to industry newsletters for both this and the food additive industry, so I see from the corporate perspective what is used and how it is used. When you buy ‘natural flavorig’ you are buying glutamate. When you buy a product that says in a large print “No MSG!” it means nothing. The fine print will say hydrolized protein or natural flavoring, both of which are glutamate, and it will say sodium, and the two together are MSG. That’s legal. Worse, the tact the additive and cleansing industries are currently is taking is to produce more and more additives form amino acids, and combining them with different minerals and other things to keep a step ahead of complaints by cosumers. Amino acids serve an important purpose in the body, but they were designed to work together Seperating them and overloading the body changes what they do. I don’t claim to know the cause of neurological disorders, but I do know that this is a dangerous product and a dangerous practise. I also know ( and I earned this from an industry newsletter) that Ajinimoto, the company that invented MSG , is under contract with both the FDA and the USDA to run the safety studies on their own product. And, I know that the head of the FDA is the former CEO of Monsanto, and I know that several scientists left the FDA over the CEO’s refusal to regulate glutamate, and some of them now run the two primary websites that give the public information on it. MSGtruth.com and truthinlabeling.org are these websites.

    I love the basic idea of a wheel of connections, but the implementation here is exactly why I don’t believe in 23 & me’s medical department. It mixes disorders, with symptoms and not even specific symptoms, but vauge ones. It’s what you’d expect to find in a fluff magazine article, not from an organization that claims to be using science. Back pain, for example, can have many causes, from strain to cancer, which makes their connections pointless. My other objection to it is it leads nowhere. I want a wheel like this that has disorders that have common root causes, and then I want to see internet links to those root causes, including nutritional/sleep/excercise deficiencies. In my research, I found that early onset migraines can lead to thyroid conditions, which can lead to arrythmia, which leads to a-fib, which leads to Alzheimers – some believe it is, in fact, all one disorder. All have one possible cause in common – a magnesium deficiency.

    23andme would be wise to take this under advisement.

    • http://abnormaldiversity.blogspot.com Ettina

      “Neuorological disorders really began emerging in the early 1950′s – right after MSG was introduced to the US market, and has steadily increased ever since. Autism first showed up then, as did ‘hyperactivity’, which our brother was diagnosed with in 1953, shortly after I was born.”

      Read John Langdon Down’s On Some of the Mental Affections of Childhood, as well as the description of ‘changelings’ in medieval times. These conditions are nothing new.

  • Cornelia Moore

    ok, you’ve pointed out the various links to night cramps, but not the cause. whatever the disease/issue, if the cause isn’t discussed, then there can be no cure. let’s add cause into the equation.

  • Cornelia Moore

    why is absolutely nothing linked to Diabetes, Type II? there are lots of symptoms (and some causes, including excess glutimates) but nothing is linked to it at all.

  • Cornelia Moore

    Hashimoto’s disease….by this I assume you mean Hashimoto’s thyroiditis? it has many issues, from temperature sensitivity to various health issues (Wiki it), and I’ve heard Magnesium blockage is a problem. most of our family suffers from it. I take, to avoid night cramps, Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc blend tabs, and it seems to have benefits for Hashimotos-also, we don’t register as having it when we have our blood tested, but we have all the issues. plus I’ve had some nodes show up in my pituitary, and some nipple leakage, even though my blood tests don’t agree with the “standard” results. I’ve given up getting tested or arguing with doctors. they’re impossible. stubborn, know it all know nothing about me’s.

  • Cornelia Moore

    um…what do arthritic hips have to do with throat clearing? seriously, is there some connection between these two, or is this a blip in the matching.

  • Cornelia Moore

    I do not understand why arthritic hips is attached to so many issues. I find that questionable, and am also perplexed at numerous listings with no connection to anything. and hypertension looks all wrong to me. these should be examined carefully to make sure they are correct, I suspect that some are not.

  • http://freshbiostats.wordpress.com/ FreshBiostats

    Impressive plot and post!! It would be so interesting to see the stats behind this…

Return to top