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The Pulse

Health & Wellness Podcasts

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.


United States


Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.








The Species We Save

Humans have long tried to mitigate their own destructive impact on the planet through conservation efforts. Often, those efforts are attached to one iconic species or another — the majestic bald eagle, cuddly cute baby seal, or awe-inspiring blue whale. But is this about them, or is it about us? On this episode, we take a closer look at conservation, and dig into the human motivations and emotions behind it. We hear stories about a near-extinct fish called the delta smelt — and whether it’s...


The Science of Schooling

School closures during the pandemic have pushed education for millions of kids into a virtual setting. The sudden changes have caused some people to rethink our educational system. Why do we do things the way we do? Based on what researchers have discovered in recent decades about the brain and how we learn, do our current approaches actually make sense? Are they based on evidence or tradition? And is it time for a revamp? On this episode, we look at what research can tell us about the way...


The Hidden Force Shaping Drug Prices

Every time you get a prescription drug, you’re dealing with a middleman you’ve probably never heard of — one who has had a hand in how much your drug costs. The same middleman decides which drugs are covered by your insurance, and even which medications are prescribed by your doctor. Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are powerful and important companies that have become connectors between pharma, insurance companies, pharmacies, and consumers. But many critics say they’ve become too powerful,...


The Science of Love

What is love? Is it that warm and fuzzy feeling, that crazed obsession, that deep sentiment of trust and good will? It’s all of those things, but where and how does love happen in our bodies? On this special episode, we put love under the microscope (and into a brain scanner) to understand where this emotion begins, and where it takes us. We talk with neurologists and psychologists to get a better understanding of the feeling that can turn us into heroes, fools — or both. Also heard on...


Shaping the Future

When we think of “the future,” it sounds like something abstract and faraway — we imagine new inventions, cutting-edge innovations, life on other planets. But the future can also be frightening. This past year has been a stark reminder of how quickly life can change, and how little we control. So which is it — a world that we shape, or one we’re propelled towards? On today’s episode, we explore the future — our worries and anxieties about it, our relationship with our future selves, and our...


Who We Are at Core

Who are you? There are dozens of ways to answer that question, from your name and nationality, to your relationships and job, all the way down to the nature of your soul. But the more we zoom in, the more the self can feel like an impressionist painting — from afar, you see distinct shapes, but the closer you look, the more it dissolves into a million tiny pieces. So what is the self really? What is it that makes us who we are? On this week’s episode, we explore what scientists are learning...


The Miracle and Menace of Plastic

Plastic gets a bad rap — over the years, it’s become synonymous with environmental destruction, cheap fakery, needless consumption, and mass-produced junk. But there’s a reason plastic is everywhere — it’s inexpensive, strong, and versatile; a shapeshifter that over the past century has revolutionized the way we live, from science and medicine to consumer goods. So, what exactly is it that makes plastic both a miracle and a menace? On this episode, we explore the science behind the dual...


What’s Best for Our Pets

Owning a pet means making decisions that affect their health — from what they eat, to whether and how much they exercise, to how they spend their days. Some of those decisions are easy — should we get our yowling cat fixed? — but others are wrenchingly tough — how much is too much for lifesaving surgery? On this episode, we explore some of the emotional, financial, and ethical dilemmas that come with owning a pet. Among the conundrums we explore: Should cats be let outside? When is it OK to...


Chasing Happiness

The pandemic has changed the way a lot of us understand and experience happiness. In normal times, we think of happiness as a big-picture goal — a guiding principle for making decisions. Will this job make me happy? Will this relationship make me happy? Will starting a family, or moving, or switching careers make me happy? But over the past few months, as our lives have increasingly been shaped by restrictions, loss, and fear, many of us have had to reexamine what happiness means, and how...


Booze, Science and Our Health

We all know that drinking a lot of alcohol is bad for your health. It’s tied to heart disease, heightened risk for some cancers, addiction, and accidents. But there is a long-held belief that moderate drinking is fine — even good for your health. So what does science actually say about the health impact of drinking? On this episode, we dig into the complicated relationship between alcohol and our health, and discover a tangled web of industry funding, thwarted research studies, and...


Persistent Patients

Most of us trust our doctors to figure out what’s wrong with us — but pinpointing illness isn’t always that easy. Sometimes, getting the right diagnosis — and the right treatment — requires patient persistence: leaning in, pushing for answers, and taking charge. On this episode, we talk to patients who took their health into their own hands after getting the brush-off from health care professionals — along with doctors who are rethinking the anatomy of diagnosis. We hear stories about the...


Full House: Multigenerational Living and Health

One in five Americans live in a multigenerational household — that means at least two separate adult generations share the space. Think grandparents, parents, kids, maybe aunts and uncles … all living under the same roof. In recent years, the number of these households has been on the rise. Living this way saves money, makes childcare easier, and can create strong family bonds. But multigenerational housing can also have negative effects, especially when quarters are cramped. It has played a...


Back from the Edge

Suicide is a tough topic — it can feel frightening, and sad, and hard to talk about — but it’s also one we can’t afford to ignore. Over the past 20 years, America’s suicide rate has increased by more than a third, and it now ranks as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide. So what do we know about suicide and how to prevent it? On this episode, The Pulse explores the mystery of suicide — what brings people to the edge, and how we might bring them back. We hear stories about the Suicide...


The Puzzle of Personality

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Open to new experiences, or comforted by routine? Shy or the life of the party? Figuring out what makes us tick is an important part of understanding how we function within our families, communities, and workplaces. Thousands of tests online promise to assess your personality — but what are they actually measuring? Where does personality come from, how does it form, and where does it live? On this episode, we explore the science behind how we become who...


A 2020 Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving usually means we’re going big — way over the top. Twice the size bird we could possibly eat; more side dishes than the table can hold; and, of course, so much pie. But so many things will be different this year because of the pandemic. Our celebrations will be smaller, and our travel plans limited. We’ll try to be grateful for what we have, while feeling the pain of all we have lost. On this special episode of The Pulse, we explore the traditions of Thanksgiving through a...


Our Favorite Rabbit Holes

We’ve all been there — you start out Googling local pharmacy hours, and all of a sudden you find yourself reading about how to construct a pool from Gruyere cheese. Such is the power of rabbit holes. We often think of them as time wasters, but at a moment when the real world can seem overwhelming, fun rabbit holes offer a respite — an opportunity to focus on something else entirely; to engage our attention and curiosity in a totally different way. So, on this episode, we celebrate some of...


The Quest for a Coronavirus Vaccine

Not even a year after SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, several coronavirus vaccines are now in the final stages of testing. Some people worry we’re moving too fast; others argue that “Operation Warp Speed” is not moving nearly fast enough. There’s a lot at stake — from public health, to trust in science, to the economy — and failure is not an option. On this episode we track the quest for a coronavirus vaccine. We talk with people who’ve received trial vaccines, scientists who are...


Laughing Matters

There’s not a lot to laugh about right now. But throughout the pandemic, we’ve managed to joke about our shared misery — like making fun of toilet paper hoarding, Zoom mishaps, and mask mumbling. Humor helps get us through tough times. It’s a crucial coping mechanism, a way of connecting with others, and part of what makes us human. On today’s episode, we explore humor — what makes us laugh, how it works, and the important roles it plays in our lives. We hear stories about inappropriate...


Working Memory

Think about the millions of details stored in your memory: what you had for breakfast; how to get to work; the smell of lavender; your first kiss; a great vacation; how to calculate percentages. So much of our existence is based on our memory. All of the small and big things we accomplish and do every day tap into this system. But how does memory work? Why do we remember some things and not others? On this episode, we look at memory. We hear stories about what scientists say happens to our...


The Hidden Costs of Science

In science, we tend to focus on the destination, not the journey. But for every big breakthrough, every historic discovery, there are countless contributions that no one notices: the forgotten grunt workers, research that came to nothing, even lives lost in the pursuit of progress. Today’s episode is about the hidden cost of science — the price of doing business that we rarely think about. We hear stories about the mental health toll of graduate school, the literal cost of research, and the...