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Health & Wellness Podcasts

Go on an adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with award-winning host Maiken Scott. The Pulse takes you behind the doors of operating rooms, into the lab with some of the world's foremost scientists, and back in time to explore life-changing innovations. The Pulse delivers stories in ways that matter to you, and answers questions you never knew you had.


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Go on an adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with award-winning host Maiken Scott. The Pulse takes you behind the doors of operating rooms, into the lab with some of the world's foremost scientists, and back in time to explore life-changing innovations. The Pulse delivers stories in ways that matter to you, and answers questions you never knew you had.








Atomic Angst and the Teenage Spy

In 1944, a brilliant, young Harvard physics student named Ted Hall was recruited to work on the super-secret mission that had already assembled the country's top scientists: the Manhattan Project. Soon, Hall was on his way to Los Alamos, where he worked on the implosion mechanism for the nuclear bomb. As the project started to succeed, Hall became increasingly concerned that it would spell disaster for the world, especially if the U.S. were the only country to have nuclear capacity. So, at the age of 18, Hall decided that he needed to do something, and he became a spy for the Soviets. Hall may have been an incredible physicist, but he was not the stealthiest of spies. Still, he was never officially caught or charged. On this episode, investigative journalist Dave Lindorff details why Ted chose this path and how he managed to evade intelligence agencies. Lindorff's new book is called, "Spy for No Country: The Story of Ted Hall, the Teenage Atomic Spy Who May Have Saved the World." We'll also hear about the state of America's nuclear arsenal today and find out why some experts argue it needs a big upgrade. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Bodies for Science

If you're training to become a physician, your first patient is usually dead. In fact, "first patient" is what med students call the human cadavers that they work on in anatomy class — when they first learn to make careful incisions, and lay eyes on the beautiful intricacies of bone, muscle, blood vessels, and organs that make our bodies work. Human cadavers have long played a crucial role in medicine and science. They not only teach generations of doctors about the human body — they allow researchers to learn valuable lessons about everything from the causes of rare diseases to the effects of how we live our lives. But how do bodies end up on dissection tables in the first place? What can they still teach us? And why do people choose to donate their remains? On this episode, we explore bodies donated to science — how they're used, why they're so important, and why people make this choice for their remains. We hear stories about one woman's mission to recruit future medical cadavers, and how 19th century medical schools got involved in body snatching. We'll take a closer look at a program that connects med students to the families of their "first patients," and find out why one firefighter has opted for a future in the Body Worlds exhibition. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


All the Rage

You can feel it coming on — your face flushes hot, maybe your fists clench, your heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure rises. It's rage — and it can go from zero to red-hot in a matter of seconds. Best-case scenario, it disappears just as fast. Worst-case scenario — it completely takes over. It's normal to feel angry when you or somebody else has been wronged, mistreated, or hurt. But even justified rage can become destructive, like a wrecking ball ruining careers and relationships. So, how do we handle these fiery emotions when they erupt? On this episode — how to deal with anger and rage. We learn about healthy ways of expressing our ire; the rise of "rage rooms" and what psychologists have to say about them; and what causes toddlers to throw such terrible tantrums. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


The Mysteries of Attraction

It can show up as a spark or a lightning bolt; a glance or a touch; an easy rapport or butterflies in your stomach. Attraction — it's a feeling we know when we experience it, but we're often not sure exactly what fuels it. Is it about looks or personality? Psychology or chemistry? Instant fireworks or long-term compatibility? On this episode, we explore the mysteries of attraction — what kindles it, what kills it, and why we're often totally wrong about who we might be attracted to. We talk with a leading attraction researcher about the factors that determine attraction, and why he often advises people to follow their gut. We find out what dating apps — and the massive amounts of data they gather — are teaching researchers about who we're drawn to and why. And we hear the story of a couple whose mutual attraction changed over time — and why that turned out to be a good thing. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Setting the Medical Record Straight

Medical records are an important part of health care. They create a history of past issues, test results, and medications. They paint a picture of somebody's general health. Patients now have more access than ever before to their records, and these changes have come with some growing pains — like receiving test results straight from the lab, before their doctor can review them, or discovering mistakes. On this episode, we crack open those medical records to get a better sense of how they can help and hinder care. We'll hear about how physicians struggle to access different parts of the record to create a cohesive picture of a patient's health. We dig into issues around law enforcement accessing these records, and why they're so valuable to hackers. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Inside Facebook: A Conversation with Jeff Horwitz

After covering the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reporter Jeff Horwitz knew that "something really weird was going on," that social media sites, especially Facebook, had played a role in shaping the election. But how — exactly? In his new book, "Broken Code: Inside Facebook and the Fight to Expose Its Harmful Secrets," Horwitz details his chase to crack open this notoriously secretive black box that is Facebook. Host Maiken Scott talks to Horwitz about the powerful algorithms that favored engagement above all else, that not just amplified specific content, but started to shape everything from what we see, to what we post, to how politicians design their campaigns. Horwitz covers technology for The Wall Street Journal and was one of the reporters on the award-winning series "The Facebook Files." Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Facebook at 20

Twenty years ago, a group of college sophomores created a website that would end up changing the world — fundamentally altering how we connect with other people, how much we know about each other, and how we curate our existence. That website was Facebook. In the years since, Facebook quickly grew from a quirky site for college students to a global powerhouse — one that can affect everything from how we feel about ourselves to the outcomes of elections. On this episode, a look at Facebook as it turns 20 — its history, its ongoing impact, and what we really know about how it operates. We hear stories about a curious coincidence linking Facebook to a defunct government surveillance project, why many researchers have mixed feelings about Facebook, and how the website's ever-changing features transformed the lives and mental health of young people. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


When Healing Happens But We Don't Know Why

More than a third of Americans use complementary and alternative medicine, ranging from acupuncture to herbalism, Ayurveda to homeopathy. But despite its growing popularity, complementary and alternative medicine remains, for the most part, outside the Western medical mainstream — regarded by some as fringe, and by others as straight-up quackery. Despite that, many researchers and supporters have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of medical practices from around the world, and to incorporate them into our health care system. And that's led to more questions: Which practices work, and for what conditions? How do they work? And how do we measure and standardize treatments when they're removed from their cultural contexts? On this episode, we step outside the boundaries of Western medicine to explore those questions. We hear stories about a mysterious Vodou treatment, the struggle to bring acupuncture into the medical mainstream, and answers to Western skeptics. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


How to Live with Uncertainty

Humans crave certainty — in science and politics, in our lives and our leaders, in our decisions and our futures. We find comfort in knowing the facts, and we fear the murky unknown. In the age of information, we've grown increasingly unnerved by uncertainty and do everything we can to mitigate that anxiety. We do research online, play out scenarios in our heads, make plans A, B, and C — imagining that if we can just prepare well enough, everything will be OK. But in her latest book, "Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure," author and journalist Maggie Jackson makes the case for an opposite way of being — embracing the unknown as an invitation to pause, an opportunity for growth and innovation. On this episode, we talk with Jackson about her book, and what science teaches us about living — and even thriving — amid uncertainty. We also hear stories about one reporter's quest to make a life-changing decision while filled with doubt, and how saying "yes" to the unknown changed an introvert's life. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Virtual Worlds, Virtual Lives

We're in a major technological revolution where artificial intelligence, gaming, and virtual reality allow us to create and enter totally new spaces and have new experiences there.In these virtual worlds, we can reinvent ourselves, connect with people around the world, or take on new challenges and adventures. But as these worlds grow bigger, more intense, and consuming, they're also raising questions about what this new future will look like.We all know things are going to be different — but how? Will we soon have entirely new and far more fabulous lives in the virtual realm? Or will things feel surprisingly similar and mundane? How will a computer-generated life intersect with real life?On this episode: virtual worlds, virtual lives, and how they're changing our reality. We hear stories about Second Life — and the surprising political power structures that have emerged there; what happens when romantic relationships with AI go bad; and how increasingly realistic gaming worlds have led to the emerging discipline of archaeogaming. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Why We Love and Hate Exercising — And How to Do It Either Way

We all know that exercise is good for us — for both our bodies and our minds — but motivating yourself to hit the gym, take a run, or even go for a walk sometimes feels like the hardest thing in the world. There are constant rebuttals that arise in our minds: We're too busy. We're too tired. We need a break — we'll start next week. At the same time, we're bombarded by messages from people who are all about fitness — influencers with seemingly perfect bodies and a healthy glow, who convince us that we too can get into shape. It's a habit that many of us try to cultivate — yet often seem to hit a wall. On this episode, we look at the science of fitness, the evolution of cultural messages surrounding exercise, and how we can overcome inertia to start fitting it into our lives. We'll hear about how exercise affects our mood and overall health, different approaches to getting in shape, the real-life struggle of becoming an Instagram fitness influencer, and one couch potato's reluctant journey to getting active. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


The Transformative Power of Awe

It's the goosebumps you get at the crescendo of your favorite song; the stupefying wonder that comes with witnessing a birth or a death; the astonishing mystery we feel when gazing at the vast night sky. This is awe — a complex, often overwhelming emotion that can elicit everything from pleasure and connectedness to a crawling sense of uncertainty. Moments of awe can create unforgettable memories — and they can have a lasting impact on our minds and the way we interact with others. One of the leading scientists studying awe is Dacher Keltner, a University of California, Berkeley psychologist, who's dedicated the past 15 years to investigating the origins and effects of this emotion. On this episode, we talk with Keltner about his new book "Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life." He discusses his own, very personal experience of awe amid profound grief, the ability of awe to transform our experience of the world, and how we can cultivate awe on a daily basis. We also hear from listeners about their experiences of awe, and listen back to a story about how voyages to space change the way astronauts perceive life, their relationships, and Earth as a whole. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


The Blurred Line Between Life and Death

We think of life and death as clear cut — you're alive or you're not; your heart's beating or it isn't; your brain functions or it doesn't. But when you look a bit deeper, both on a biological level, and in terms of people's experiences, the border where life ends and death begins starts to look less firm, leading to questions about what comes next. On this episode, we explore the blurred line between life and death. We hear about near-death experiences, and what researchers say about the difference between our brains and our consciousness; we discuss a pioneering approach to collecting organs that is raising questions about the definition of death; and we'll explore why some people experience sudden bursts of lucidity before death. Also, a story about a controversial contest to prove the existence of life after death. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Lowering Barriers to Care

Lots of things can get in the way of taking care of your health, catching medical issues early on, and getting treatment. Navigating insurance woes, trouble scheduling appointments, big medical bills — but also broader issues like lack of access, distrust in the medical system, and language barriers can stand in the way of patient care. On this episode, we'll take a look at barriers to health care — especially for America's most vulnerable populations — and explore potential solutions. We hear stories about a new initiative to screen for colorectal cancer, how AI is helping to bridge language divides, and a recent push to institute screenings for the forgotten sense. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Uncovering the Inner Workings of the Oceans

What comes to mind when you think of the ocean? Maybe a day at the beach — swimming in the waves, snorkeling through coral reefs, fishing, surfing, and sunsets that kiss the blue horizon. But Earth's oceans are more than all of that; they're our planet's defining feature, its largest ecosystem, the original source of all life, and, according to physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski, the engine that powers our planet. On this episode, we talk with Czerski about her new book, "The Blue Machine: How the Ocean Works," and why she says the ocean is critical not only to our climate system, but to the big and small processes that sustain and shape life on Earth. She also helps us understand the many intricacies of the sea, from the reasons why it's salty to how the Earth's rotation affects its currents. We also hear stories about efforts to restore coral reefs using sound and find out why scientists are looking for climate time capsules at the bottom of the ocean. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


How Gene Therapy is Offering Hope — Once Again

For decades, the idea that you could attack genetic illnesses right at the root — that you could modify people's genes to treat or cure disease — sounded like science fiction. But in recent years, several new gene therapy treatments have been FDA approved, and many others are showing promise in clinical trials. On this episode, we take a look at what's new with gene therapy, what's on the horizon, and the challenges standing in the way. We hear stories about making these treatments more affordable by changing the manufacturing process, what happened when one family tried to enroll their son in a clinical trial under a looming deadline, and one man's DIY approach to curing his own condition. We also chat with a pioneer in the field of gene therapy about sticking with her research during a time when funding dried up and interest in the field had faded. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Changing Tastes

What we make for dinner, grab as a snack, or have for breakfast changes all the time — and there are some major forces at play: consumer tastes and marketing, but also climate change, global supply chains, nutrition science, health concerns, and social media influencers. On this episode, we'll look at what we eat and why. We'll find out how lima beans are getting a makeover, and why seed oils ended up becoming a lightning rod in nutrition debates. We'll also taste a futuristic green with self-proclaimed superpowers, meet one physician who's trying to convince people to eat more organ meats, and another who says to stay away from anything marketed as health food. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Salty, Crunchy, and Addictive: A Physician's Fight Against Ultra-Processed Foods

Sugary cereals for breakfast, a protein bar as a snack, a microwave lasagna for lunch, and a frozen pizza for dinner sounds like a teenager's dream diet, but these are the types of foods physician Chris van Tulleken ate for four weeks. During this time, he got 80 percent of his daily calories from ultra-processed foods, to see how it would impact his health and mood. He writes about this experience, and his extensive research on these products in his new book, "Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn't Food." Host Maiken Scott talks to Van Tulleken about the link to obesity and disease, and why he says we should probably avoid anything that's marketed as a health food. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Getting Better at Resolving Conflicts

In March of 2022, the war in Ukraine was weighing heavily on Fabian Falch, a Norwegian tech entrepreneur. The Russian government had started to censor news stories and social media posts about the war, and Falch wondered how Russian citizens would be able to access information, let alone voice criticism. Then he had an idea: to send emails to Russians — millions of them. Eventually, a conflict researcher got involved in this effort and it turned into a real-time study on what works and what doesn't when it comes to shifting people's perspectives. On this episode, we explore what we have learned about resolving conflict, and how we can better understand each other's perspectives. We'll hear stories about persuasion, connection, and trying to find some middle ground. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy


Why Rejection Hurts So Much — And How to Cope

Rejection, or even the thought of it, can strike fear into our hearts, and leave a bad taste in our mouths. It often leads to a mix of sadness, shame, anxiety, and anger — along with nagging questions. What's wrong with me? Why did this person not like me? Why didn't I win this award? Why didn't I get the job? But it doesn't have to be that way, and there's a lot we can learn from not making the cut. On this episode, we explore the experience of rejection — what it feels like, how it functions, and the lessons we can draw from it.We'll hear from a fear and anxiety researcher about the evolutionary roots of anxiety — and why asking someone out on a date can feel like a life-or-death situation. Then we'll explore a common experience among people with ADHD, known as rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), and hear how one future physician dealt with the worst rejection of her life. Learn more about sponsor message choices: NPR Privacy Policy