52 episodes

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

The Pulse WHYY

    • Science

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

    Hair and our Health

    Hair and our Health

    Hair can be our crowning glory, a big part of our identity, and a tool for self-expression. We shave it, style it, cut it, dye it — and sometimes, hope for it to come back. We obsess over its texture and length. While products help, how our hair looks is related to DNA, to hormones, and to our immune system. On this episode, we look into the connection between our health and our hair. We hear stories about the chemicals in hair dyes, treatments for baldness, and certain aspects of hair that can become an obsession.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    We’ve put a man on the moon — so why can’t we cure baldness? The Pulse’s Jad Sleiman explores why baldness so difficult to treat … and what could finally work.
    Erin Wall is one of opera’s most sought-after classical sopranos. But when she lost her iconic blond locks to cancer treatment, Wall had to get comfortable with a new onstage persona.
    KUOW’s Eilis O’Neill tells the story of Geneva “Gigi” Myhrvold, who started pulling out her hair as a child. Gigi explains how she deals with trichotillomania, and what helps her get the urge to pull under control.
    Internist Neda Frayha says female baldness comes up in her practice a lot, but she cautions patients to be careful with expensive vitamin products that promise relief.
    WOSU’s Paige Pfleger on why public health officials in Columbus, Ohio are making use of barbershops to help spread the word about infant mortality.
    When Amy Silverman’s daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Amy had many questions — and one of them was whether her daughter would ever have curly hair.

    This episode originally aired September 19, 2019.

    • 49 min
    New Problems

    New Problems

    In the decades after the Civil War, the nation was changing rapidly. Cities were industrializing, the railroad was expanding, business was booming in many places — people were busy! Life in the fast lane seemed to have an impact, giving rise to a condition that soon became known as neurasthenia. Some of the symptoms were fatigue, irritability, and digestion problems. Today, we would probably call this stress, or burnout.

    Each time period has its own problems that people try to name, and get under control. Often, new inventions come with unintended consequences. On this episode, we look into the new problems of our times, and what we’re doing about them. Is vaping still a good strategy to quit smoking? Can clunky electronic health records be fixed? We also find out what therapists know about helping people who need to be online for their jobs, and are targeted by trolls.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Many people have used vaping as a way to quit smoking. But then we started hearing about a mysterious lung illness that’s put more than 2,000 people in the hospital, and killed more than 50. Since then, there’s been a backlash against vaping — with some claiming that it could be just as unhealthy as smoking regular old cigarettes. Is that true? Reporter Liz Tung — who recently traded Camels in for mango-flavored e-cigarettes — investigates.
    Journalist Beth Gardiner talks about the global impact of air pollution. Her new book is “Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution.”
    Asthma rates are on the rise across the U.S., but the problem is especially dire on reservations. Reporter Eilís O’Neill visited the Navajo Nation to see how asthma is affecting families and children there. Her reporting was funded in part by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship and by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism.
    Technology means constant distractions, or reminders that something else needs to be done right now. We jump from task to task, or get sucked into social media. When do distractions lead to mistakes? We talk with researchers Samuel Murray from Duke University and Santiago Amaya from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá.
    Electronic Health Records were supposed to make it easier to manage patient information, and to avoid mistakes. Instead, many health care providers complain that they are clunky to use, and interfere with treatment. Reporter Camille Petersen explores if they can they be fixed.

    • 49 min
    Psychedelics and Therapy

    Psychedelics and Therapy

    After a decades-long hiatus, researchers are taking a fresh look at the potential of psychedelics in therapy. Could substances like ketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD help people with depression or PTSD? What are the risks? We explore the recent explosion of psychedelics research, and hear from people who have tried them to treat mental health issues.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Many people report having breakthroughs in therapy when using psychedelics, in part because they gain new perspective on an issue. Scientists call this “cognitive flexibility.” Neurologist turned teacher Judy Willis describes how she encourages that skill in her classroom, without the use of psychedelics.
    Last year, the FDA approved a ketamine-based nasal spray to be used for treating severe depression. Reporter Claire Tighe looks into how ketamine addresses depression, and how the nasal spray is impacting patients.
    Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, joins us to discuss the history and future of psychedelics research.
    MDMA is being used in treating PTSD, and some researchers say it also has a role in couples therapy. Brian Earp, co-author of “Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of our Relationships” discusses how the substance works in tandem with therapy.
    Sandor Iron Rope lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and is part of the Native American Church. The church uses peyote in religious ceremonies. Sandor is wary of the scientific exploration of psychedelics, because he worries it will lead to the exploitation of a traditional and sacred Native American resource.

    • 48 min
    Vision 2020

    Vision 2020

    The New Year is often a time for a fresh start. We reflect on our past habits, and resolve to do better — eat healthier, work harder, or work less, and spend more time on the things that really matter. We set goals and create new visions for our best possible lives. Usually, though, come February, most of us are back to our old habits and routines. But some people actually manage to succeed at making their visions a reality. How are they doing it? What have they learned? And what can we learn from them?

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    We hear from scientists about what they plan to do differently in 2020.
    We talk to author Scott Fedor about his experience persevering through a devastating accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. His new book is called “Head Strong: How a Broken Neck Strengthened My Spirit.”
    As an inmate at California’s Solano State Prison, Gordon Melvin’s life revolved around drinking, dope, and violence — until a yoga program on PBS transformed his body, mind, and life. This story is from the KALW series “Uncuffed,” produced by people inside Solano and San Quentin State Prison.

    • 48 min
    Why We Exercise

    Why We Exercise

    Running, biking, weightlifting, swimming — for lots of people, working out is an important part of life. It’s about our health — mental and physical — strength, weight control, discipline and let’s face it: vanity. On this episode, we explore why we exercise, why we should, and how to do it best.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Baby, we were born to run — even more than you might think. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores why humans are such improbably good runners. We cheer on Harvard professor Dan Lieberman as he races a horse in a 20-mile run, learn the history of persistence hunting, and find out why butts are our secret weapon.
    Producer Lindsay Lazarski talks with historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela about the history of women’s workouts — starting with the “reducing salons” of the 1930s through the age of jazzercise and aerobics. Petrzela’s upcoming book is called “Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise As The Government Abandoned It.”
    Want to be able to tie your shoes when you’re 80, and still get up the stairs? Start working out now. We chat with sports physician Tony Reed from Temple University Hospital about the benefits of regular exercise for healthy aging.
    Working out transformed Marta Rusek’s health and her life. But changing her difficult relationship with her body took even more time — and work.

    • 48 min
    The Future of Trees

    The Future of Trees

    Humans have a close relationship with trees. We plant and cultivate them for food and shelter. Trees offer protection from the rays of the sun. We relax and seem to breathe more deeply in their presence. And of course, we couldn’t breathe at all without trees — since they act as the “lungs of the earth,” converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

    On this episode, we explore our relationship with trees, and the shifting give-and-take in a changing world. We hear stories about how climate change is affecting our forests; what it’s like to live in a tree; and how science is trying to bring a near-extinct tree back to life.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    How is climate change affecting trees? Unlike animals, they can’t migrate when the going gets tough — which is why reporter Alan Yu says some humans are giving trees a hand at moving house.
    For more than a century, American chestnut trees have teetered on the edge of extinction, due to a disease called the “chestnut blight.” But now, after decades of work, scientists have come up with a solution — a genetically engineered chestnut tree that’s resistant to the blight. Supporters say it could revive the species — so why are some critics saying it could destroy America’s forests? Liz Tung reports.
    What’s it like living in a tree? We find out from Nate Madsen, a lawyer and environmental activist. In the late 90s, he spent two years living in a redwood tree to save it from loggers.
    Air pollution from highways can affect people’s health. Could trees help? WABE reporter Molly Samuel talks with a researcher who’s studying which trees are best at blocking pollution.
    California forest fires seem to get bigger and more destructive every year. But climate change isn’t the only culprit — 150 years of bad forest management have changed the very structure of the wildlands, and not for the better. According to scientists, what they actually need is more fire and maybe a little help from some forest-loving lumberjacks. Daniel Merino reports.

    • 49 min

Customer Reviews

Amanda*Marie ,

LOVE The Pulse

I look forward to each new episode and listen the archived shows in the meantime! Journalism at its best!!!

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Love this show!

This show is informative, interesting, and always surprising work the covered topics. The music is great and so is everybody involved in the production!

Louiseshia ,

Could Two Science Shows Be Tied?

The Pulse is now tired with Radio Lab as my two favorites podcasts. Funny, I majored in English and taught it. Finding the Pulse this year, I’ve listened to all shows in the archives. I enjoy the different reports of the weekly topic. The Pulse reporters really dig out their information, and I’ve learned amazing new things. I love to listen to Miken Scott’s voice as she has a delightful sense of humor and down to earth way of speaking.

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