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The truth about medicine

Tulleken, Chris van, 1978-
  • Videos

About this work


In this episode, Dr Chris van Tulleken considers the merits and pitfalls of over-the-counter medicines. Starting with oral painkillers, he tracks the progress of one within his own system by swallowing a ‘pill cam’ which films the pill passing through his digestive system and explains that painkillers cannot target individual parts of the body. Next van Tulleken investigates muscle relief by investigating whether hot or cold conditions are more effective. He attends ‘Beat the Bog’, a 5 mile obstacle race in Kent and divides volunteers into 3 groups: one has a cold bath after the race, one a hot bath, and a control group, and the recovery of all is measured over 3 days. Next van Tulleken introduces indigestion medicine. He invites volunteers for a 3 course meal and asks them to guess which is most likely to cause indigestion. He explains the two most common remedies; chalk-based antacids, and alginates. He demonstrates antacids by adding some to a vial of hydrochloric acid which creates a barrier at the top. Van Tulleken returns to the ‘Beat the Bog’ volunteers and looks at the results with Dr Alan Richardson from the University of Brighton. Van Tulleken tries hot and cold topical creams and measures the temperature of his muscles. He then introduces cough medicine. He meets with Professor Alyn H. Morice who explains the causes of cough and possible cures and creates home remedy ‘syrup.’ Van Tulleken introduces all-in-one medicines. He visits a medical research facility where doctors study volunteers who have a highly infectious strain of flu. Van Tulleken explains vitamin supplements. He meets with the Jays, a ‘typical’ British family and asks them to keep a food diary. Van Tulleken discusses the merits of oily fish and Omega-3 and visits Norwich to ask the public which fish has the most Omega-3. He and vitamin expert Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait analyse the results of the Jays’ food consumption. Lastly, van Tulleken considers skin conditions, and visits Haringey Women’s Football team to explain Athletes’ Foot, and examines players’ feet. Van Tulleken meets with dermatologist Dr Dev Shah and 3 volunteers to examine acne-ridden skin, and explains over-the-counter acne medicine containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. He returns to Haringey Women’s Football club to reveal the results for fungal infection with Professor Marc Brown.


UK : BBC 1, 2015.

Physical description

1 DVD (58:01 min.) : sound, colour, PAL.


Broadcast on 09 April, 2015

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Elliot Gerner.
Presented by Dr Chris van Tulleken.

Copyright note

BBC Productions



  • English

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