Natural Family Health Clinic serves patients from far and wide in Okanagan Falls
Naturopathic doctor Tamara Browne sees patients from around British Columbia at her clinic in an Okanagan Falls strip mall.
“They come from all over southern BC,” said Dr. Browne. “In fact, people come from as far as Cranbrook and even the Cariboo – 100 Mile [House]. Princeton, the Similkameen Valley, all through the Okanagan. Some of the things I do are fairly specialized, and people will travel a long distance.”
Two of the specialties that Dr. Browne has – and not all naturopathic doctors can do – are intravenous or pain injection therapies. These require extra training and licensing.
“I guess that differentiates me from a lot of naturopathic doctors who don’t do those more advanced treatments,” said Dr. Browne.
For Dr. Browne, the Okanagan Falls location for the Natural Family Health Clinic and Chelation Centre has worked well. She’s been in practice for almost 25 years and has been in Okanagan Falls since 2011. Originally, she located across from the hotel, but for the past two years she’s been in her present location at 5350 Highway 97, just west of the former IGA.
“It has actually turned out to be a pretty ideal location for what I do,” said Dr. Browne, who wanted to be close to Penticton, as well as to Oliver where her children were going to school.
“It’s on the highway, it’s very visible, and it’s affordable,” she said. “Whereas trying to get a highway location somewhere else that’s visible, with lots of parking, it’s not easy to find the right spot.”
So, what is naturopathic medicine and how does it differ from conventional medicine?
“Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care system that blends modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine,” says a statement on the clinic’s website.
“We definitely keep up on the science and research and evidence-based medicine, which encompasses the latest science,” said Dr. Browne.
Naturopathic medicine offers alternatives for people not able to take medication or for whom medication isn’t working, she said.
“It’s a broader range of therapies that you cannot find in traditional mainstream medicine,” she added.
“One of the things we focus on is treating the cause, so we’re trying to heal the problem and get at the root cause of it, rather than just suppress the symptoms,” she said. “If someone’s in pain they can take Tylenol or ibuprofen to suppress the pain, but that’s not helping the condition or getting rid of the problem.”
Dr. Browne said she always starts with a complete history and physical of every patient, looking at such basics as lifestyle, nutrition and psychological.
If lifestyle therapies aren’t doing enough, she may look at more advanced therapies including intravenous, micronutrient therapy, as well as pain treatments with natural substances injected into joints, muscles, and ligaments.
“That often helps relieve pain and helps to regenerate worn out cartilage and that sort of thing,” she said.
She uses prolotherapy where glucose and ozone are injected, and sometimes procaine is injected as a local anesthetic.
Dr. Browne said some medical conditions have no surgical options, and the injections can help people as an alternative to surgery.
Another treatment she uses is chelation, which she said improves cardiovascular function and can remove heavy toxic metals from the body. Chelation therapy uses injections of drugs that bind to metals in the bloodstream.
“It was initially used around World War II to remove lead from industrial workers who were suffering from lead poisoning,” she said. “Then they discovered that these patients that were having chelation had improvements in cardiovascular functioning as well, so now it’s used for both.”
Virtually everybody tested has heavy metal these days, she said, whether it comes from mercury amalgam fillings, eating certain types of seafood, or from the lead that used to be in gasoline.
“It’s fairly ubiquitous in the environment now,” said Dr. Browne. “Everyone has some lead in their body.”
Usually chelation starts with 10 treatments, but it can be 20 or 30 or more, she said.
Dr. Browne said her decision to go into naturopathic medicine is partly attributable to her upbringing on a farm in a natural environment. Her family were cattle ranchers in Greenwood, Oliver, Okanagan Falls and briefly in the Cariboo.
“I wasn’t drawn to the modern medical side of things, prescribing medication, so I looked for something that resonated with my personality more,” she said. “I found this. I didn’t really know it existed until I was in college, and then I looked into it further. It seemed to really resonate, so the rest is history.”
She did her medical training at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, just outside of Seattle – a private alternative medicine university.
Her undergraduate training, she said, was very similar to that of a conventional medicine student, especially in the first two years of pre-medical and basic sciences.
“The last two years the clinical work is where we branch off into using more natural remedies and not so much on the pharmaceutical and surgical side of things, but herbal medicine, nutrition, physical medicine, lifestyle, those sorts of things.”
Dr. Browne said she works with the conventional system and most of her patients also have a medical doctor. Although she can prescribe some conventional medicines, there are restrictions on what she can prescribe. She’s also not able to refer patients to specialists, so they need to get a referral from a medical doctor.
Naturopathic medicine is not covered by the BC Medical Services Plan (MSP) but extended medical insurance may cover a portion for some patients.
The clinic has a waiting list for new patients, but if there’s something really urgent, Dr. Browne tries to squeeze them in.
Part of her role, she said, is to educate patients and the general public about naturopathic medicine.
She also addresses some of the perceived misconceptions.
“I think naturopathic doctors are probably more progressive and scientifically based than most people think,” she said. “We’re not quacks. We do follow the science, follow the research, and follow evidence-based medicine. We need to cooperate with medical doctors and specialists and every other kind of healthcare practitioner. We’re not either-or, we’re not separate. We are just part of someone’s healthcare team.”
Natural Family Health Clinic
Unit 8B, 5350 Hwy 97
Okanagan Falls, BC V0H 1R0
Story and photos by Richard McGuire