MEDICINE MEN; Twin Doctors Chris and Alexander Van Tulleken Live with Native Tribes in Far Flung Corners to Learn about Alternative Remedies

Article excerpt

Byline: By Rick Fulton

DON'T adjust your TV set, you are not seeing double.

Twin doctors Chris and Alexander Van Tulleken are about to become the Ray Mears of the medicine world when they hit our screens next week in new Channel 4 show Medicine Men Go Wild.

The four-part documentary series challenged the 29-year-old identical twin doctors to completely immerse themselves in cultures in some of the most extreme places on earth.

The handsome brothers experimented with body mutilation, hallucinogenic plants and toxic potions in a bid to find out about the alternative medical practices in the Steppes of Russia, Peru, Asia and the Congo Basin.

They hoped to discover if other traditions have anything to teach the west about curing - or preventing - illnesses.

The boys are like two eager puppy dogs when it comes to trying out new things - but having needles stuck through their cheeks in an attempt to prove theories about pain was almost a step too far, even for them.

Alexander, or Xand as he likes to be called, said: "When we were in Asia, we became fascinated by one of those ceremonies where participants can push needles through their flesh without apparently feeling any pain at all.

"There's one theory that says that their ability to transcend the pain barrier is to fast, to think holy thoughts, to live in quiet contemplation, have no sexual activity and to drink pure water. That's what I did - a real purging of the mind and body.

"Chris went on down the other path, ate like a horse, enjoyed himself hugely and turned up on the day with a hangover. Then we both had needles pushed through our cheeks. Don't get too queasy - it's not as bad as it sounds - flesh is a very elastic medium. But afterwards, as the one who had done all the preparation, I felt quite rocky and disorientated for a few hours, whereas Chris just went along with it all and came out on a breeze."

Did it leave any permanent damage?

"Not that you'd notice," laughed Chris, showing an unblemished pair of cheeks, "but the tiny holes are definitely still there. I tend to leak a little bit occasionally if I'm having a drink - like a tiny drop of sweat appearing."

What they think they proved, they say, "is that pain is indeed in the brain" and that some people can suffer it better than others.

Xand said: "There are people who can feel a needle before it has even been put in their arm for a simple shot and there are others to whom it is a complete, 'So what, never mind'. Who can explain all of that and what the brain does?"

The twins also visited the Biaka pygmies of the densely forested Congo basin, people who have managed to survive in a region that is the incubator for some of the most deadly diseases known to man, such as the Ebola plague.

Yet the brothers discover the pygmies manage to live on, and indeed thrive, using potions and hallucinogenics to combat lethal diseases.

Over their month-long stay, Boyemba, the local nganga or medicine man, opens the twins' eyes to the huge number of plants and barks that he uses to treat everything from malaria to impotence.

Chris gamely takes the two remedies used to rectify erectile dysfunction to the great amusement of the whole group.

But the arrival of a very sick baby in the village allows the twins to observe the nganga's treatments in the life and death situations he so often faces, in an environment where the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.

While Chris can see some potential benefits in his techniques, Xand is extremely sceptical and before long is itching to examine the baby himself.

Aware they must tread lightly to ensure they do not upset tribe, they choose their moment carefully. Once put in the nganga's position, Xand is struck by the difficulties of working in such a hostile environment. And, despite his initial doubts, soon questions whether there is truly such a huge gulf between the ways he and the nganga do medicine. …