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Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn't know that germs spread them, we've known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven't been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer's, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and even cancer – tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

“The psychological definition of loneliness hasn't changed much since Fromm-Reichmann laid it out. 'Real loneliness,' as she called it, is not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the 'shut-upness' and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is 'real loneliness' the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It's not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment – your friend or lover or even spouse – unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. Fromm-Reichmann even distinguished 'real loneliness' from mourning, since the well-adjusted eventually get over that, and from depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness but is rarely the cause. Loneliness, she said – and this will surprise no one – is the want of intimacy.”

– From “The Lethality of Loneliness” at

A quiz

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States. What two causes round out the top three?

Wisdom of the ages

“Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Current wisdom

“I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” – Angelina Jolie, writing about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it likely she would get breast cancer.

Quiz answer

Cancer and stroke.

Snob words

circadian (sur-KAY-dee-uhn), adj. – noting or pertaining to rhythmic biological cycles recurring at approximately 24-hour intervals, as in: “The editorial writer wasn't bored at the meeting – his circadian body clock merely told him it was time for a nap.”

Today in history

On this date in 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed emperor of France; well, that worked out real well.

Now you know

Earthquakes kill approximately 8,000 people each year, according to Random History.com, and have caused an estimated 13 million deaths in the past 4,000 years.