Updated 3:11 p.m., March 27, 2010.
Dr. Marina Rozenshteyn noticed that a one-size-fits-all diet failed to help many of the patients in her clinical practice in the Republic of Estonia.
So Rozenshteyn spent more than 20 years researching the effects of different foods on the human body. She found that the inability to digest some foods was linked to weight gain, but it also was linked to disorders like migraine headaches and acne.
Now one of the top specialists in her field, Rozenshteyn has co-authored a nutritional method based on her research and co-founded immunoHealth Sciences LLC in Lyndhurst, Ohio, to use her methodology to help clients in the United States.
immunoHealth is tapping into the burgeoning U.S. market for weight-loss diets, estimated to have been $55 billion in 2007 by Dirk Aschmoneit, director of food and retail marketing at diet company Jenny Craig Inc. That market is driven by a stark statistic: Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese. And obesity often leads to chronic and costly diseases like diabetes.
immunoHealth tries to head off or manage these diseases– and improve overall health–by identifying and treating food intolerances.
“We are a nutritional clinic, which is more of a nutritional method,” said Michael Maly, managing member for immunoHealth and a business attorney who was educated as a biochemical engineer. “The method is based on detection and treatment of a condition known as ‘delayed food intolerance,’ which is much different from traditional food allergies.”
Food intolerance is a delayed, negative reaction to food. For instance, people who cannot digest milk would suffer from abdominal cramping, gas and diarrhea after drinking a milkshake. Food allergies often are more serious and can cause anaphylactic shock and even death.
Food intolerances are much more common than food allergies. About one in 100 people has a food allergy, according to immunoHealth. Yet three in four people might be intolerant to milk, and one in three, to sugar. People who have untreated food intolerances are at increased risk of developing diseases like obesity, diabetes, arthritis and cancer, immunoHealth says.
Typically, people become clients of immunoHealth because they want to lose weight or feel better. Some clients are referred by physicians who are treating them for skin problems, headaches, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, abdominal discomfort or attention deficit disorder. Elite athletes also have benefited from the company’s program, which can boost their endurance and strength, Maly said.
immunoHealth is not a medical clinic, so it usually works with the doctors of its clients. The company combines immunology–the study of the immune system–with traditional medicine, nutrition, dietetics and culinary science to “put together individualized healthy eating programs” for clients, he said. “We don’t call them ‘diets.’ We are not just another diet clinic.”
The eating programs are based on clients’ immunologic responses to the foods they eat each day. immunoHealth determines these responses by using a standard blood test called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect Immunoglobulin G (IgG), an antibody the body can produce to fight foods, Maly said.
“We have extracts from different foods that we put on a standard test panel,” he said. “We test for either 111 or 132 different foods. We look for the concentrations of these IgG antibodies on the panel.”
The ELISA test is not novel, Maly said. “What is a novelty is the way we interpret the results of the test.” That interpretation is embodied in an international patent application for Rozenshteyn’s methodology titled Method of Analysis, Detection and Correction of Food Intolerance in Humans.
“This methodology has been applied to animals by our affiliates in Europe, specifically, race horses and dogs,” Maly said.
“And we have huge experience working with people, approximately 20 years,” said Rozenshteyn, who medically directs a food intolerance clinic in Estonia, which she started in 2003. “Our approach to IgG testing is absolutely different than here. The test really works for our patients.”
Rozenshteyn is one of the top 10 world experts on food intolerance, Maly said. “She has done specialized research for one government in Eastern Europe, which dealt with eating habits of different populations and the effect of food on their survival rate over a period of years, and also the effect of foods on disorders that these people have experienced.”
Biologists have long recognized that different animal species have different abilities to digest and process foods, Rozenshteyn said. Many animals can survive by eating only certain foods. Humans, however, have a greater ability to adapt to foods. “But sometimes we pay for that,” she said. “Some chronic diseases and symptoms are from this adaptation.”
We pay because our bodies produce antibodies to fight foods to which we are intolerant, Rozenshteyn said. Not only can this immune response cause symptoms of disease, it can cause our bodies to store fat, water and impurities. Clients who stop eating foods to which they are intolerant tend to lose weight because their bodies become biochemically balanced, she said.
Rozenshteyn’s husband, a renowned physicist, developed algorithms based on her research and database of 50,000 patients that reveal food intolerances when applied to results of the standard blood test. Like animals, some human populations have become intolerant to certain foods, resulting in inherited intolerances. People can develop temporary sensitivities to foods by eating too much of them or eating them in certain combinations, Maly said.
Once a client’s food intolerances are identified, immunoHealth eliminates those foods by creating a “portrait” of foods the client can eat, he said. “We can say with 95 percent certainty that this person will feel better” by eating from within the portrait, he said.
One Cleveland client lost 51 pounds and canceled a planned knee replacement surgery, according to immunoHealth. A Cleveland man who lost 60 pounds achieved stabilized blood pressure, reduced body mass index and enhanced mobility while getting rid of intestinal problems.
immunoHealth tests the client again in three months to find out which food intolerances were temporary, adding those foods–in limited portions and combinations–to the portrait. The company’s professionals also can help clients figure out how to shop for and cook foods, Maly said.
The program takes three months and $700 to complete. Most insurers will not pay for the program, but they may pay for the blood tests, he said. immunoHealth is willing to work out payment plans for clients.
Launched in February 2008 with $500,000 in founders’ capital, immunoHealth is looking for investors and hopes to raise up to $3 million to pay for intellectual property protection, robust clinical studies of its method and expansion. Maly also is working on a franchise model to expand the business, which already has one franchisee in New York City. “Our vision is to have 20 or 30 clinics within five to seven years,” he said.