Population Density Stress Is Killing Us Now!

Gregg Miklashek | November 14, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Image credit: John Kastner, Inpatient psychiatry art therapist, University of Rochester (NY)

You may not want to hear it, and when I started medical practice 46 years ago, I certainly did not plan on finding it, but human overpopulation and our modern life-style choices are causing physiological changes responsible for our top ten killing “diseases of civilization”. I spent 41 years in active medical practice treating 25,000 patients with 1,000,000 Rx and talk therapy. My training was in medicine and psychiatry, and the majority of my patients suffered from “anxiety” and “depression”, but I became increasingly aware of the direct association of their psychiatric problems with other general medical conditions. 

Eventually, I came to realize that nearly all psychiatric conditions, and most general medical problems as well, could be explained as resulting from our overactive stress response. Our chronically overactive stress response was generating abnormally elevated blood levels of the adrenal stress hormone cortisol, and research dating back over 100 years indicated a direct connection between these elevated cortisol levels and the comparable diseases of civilization in research animals. 

But, then, I discovered a parallel line of animal crowding research dating back to the 1940’s, which also implicated elevated cortisol levels with diseases and deaths associated with population density stress. As the supporting evidence accumulated, I applied this population density stress model to my clinical medical practice and achieved remarkable results.

Numerous conscious and unconscious environmental stressors in our daily lives trigger our often unconscious stress response and elevate cortisol levels, as well as other aspects of our over-activated stress response. This over-activated stress response results in our feelings and symptoms of “anxiety” and eventually “depression”. I knew that properly administered anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications relieved these symptoms and signs of anxiety and depression. 

Numerous peer reviewed scientific papers demonstrate the lowering of cortisol levels as a result of these medications, as well as massage, meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, music, and exercise. Both my patients and myself could see this effect first hand and their lowered cortisol levels were proof positive. Chronic stress was causing their anxiety and depression and cortisol lowering medications were restoring them to normal. But what about their other general medical problems?

An extensive medical scientific literature dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, had demonstrated the connection between our overactive stress response and elevated cortisol levels with many diseases: hyperthyroidism (Graves disease), atherosclerosis and heart disease, obesity and diabetes, cancers, immune system suppression and increased risk of infection, high blood pressure, kidney disease, peptic ulcers, heart attack and stroke, etc.: “the diseases of civilization”. 

However, our contemporary and historical hunter-gatherer ancestors have few of our diseases. They suffer from a wide range of communicable and parasitic diseases associated with their ecosystems, but they rarely have our most prominent diseases. Their life-spans are comparable to ours, except for our forced extensions by all manner of expensive medical technology. 

A case in point: in 1932, British physicians examined 238,851 rural Kenyans in the course of treating them for various native medical conditions, but they did not find a single case of heart disease. Dr. Donnison published these results in his 1937 book, Civilization and Disease. 

Heart disease is the number one fatal disease in our Western urban populations. The only demographic factors separating the two populations are physical activity levels, sparse diet, close-knit clan living, immersion in an undisturbed natural environment, and population density. We do not know the cortisol levels of these Kenyans, but they had few or none of our “civilized” diseases, and the same phenomenon has been reported by physicians working in similar rural hunter-gatherer and pastoralist populations all over the world. And, by the way, these same rural hunter-gatherer or pastoralist people develop all of our diseases within two years of moving to congested urban centers and taking up our Western lifestyle!

So, a broad picture of population density stress emerged. And, then, I read several books and papers from 19th century neurologists practicing in large eastern cities in the US, Drs. Charles Miller Beard and Silas Weir Mitchell, who had reported numerous cases of a then new medical condition they were seeing and treating. They coined the term “neurasthenia” and later “nervous exhaustion” for this new medical condition. They made long lists of their patients’ symptoms and I realized that they matched the symptoms that I was seeing in a large sub-population of my patients. 

This group of patients with a previous history of severe or chronic stress seemed to be suffering from the opposite of my anxious and depressed patients, leaving me to guess that they might no longer be able to make cortisol. Perhaps over use of their adrenal glands had simply worn them out, so they could no longer produce adequate amounts of cortisol. They, like the neurasthenia patients, were totally exhausted all the time, they craved salt and were light-headed on standing, and they were plagued by either new or returning symptoms and signs of a whole array of autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus erythematosus (LE), psoriasis, myalgic encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia, etc. 

Cortisol regulates energy release as well as the immune system and neither too much or too little is unhealthy. So, I asked these patients to get cortisol blood levels first thing in the morning, just like I had with many of the over-stressed, anxious, depressed patients described above. Many of these poor souls were making almost no cortisol at all, while the anxious and depressed patients most often had very high levels. Can you see the pattern here? These cortisol depleted patients seemed to be suffering from “adrenal fatigue”, which occurred after long periods of high stress or even a brief serious illness, just like the neurasthenia patients in the 19th century. Fortunately for us, I could refer these cortisol depleted patients to James Wilson’s self-help book Adrenal Fatigue. 

Population density stress was making us sick and killing us, first through the “diseases of civilization”, and then as a result of adrenal fatigue!

This has been a brief overview of what my patients taught me over a 42 year clinical medical practice. If the reader would like the details, just Google “Stress R Us” for a free e-book PDF in the MAHB website library at Stanford, or a PB copy on Amazon Books. This book goes into great detail demonstrating the connection between human overpopulation, population density stress, our rapidly increasing “diseases of civilization”, environmental collapse, and the other topics touched on above. 

The solution to the problem of our rapidly increasing diseases of civilization, our increasing cortisol levels or their collapse, and the human overpopulation driving them is simple. We need to voluntarily restrict our future worldwide reproduction to one-child per couple on average, which will bring our worldwide population down to the 1950 level of two and a half billion (2,500,000,000) by 2,100. Such a worldwide effort demands ready access to safe, effective, and inexpensive contraception and freedom for men and women to make the decision to limit their reproduction in order to have a habitable earth for their child, and the generation following, if there is to be one. 

Everywhere women (and men) are freed from the obligation in our Capitalist societies to overproduce offspring to keep the wheels of industry turning out excessive profits for the few running these huge corporations, and women are allowed and encouraged to get higher education and meaningful work, the fertility rate drops naturally.

The alternative to this voluntary human population reduction movement is increasing disease, increasing medical interventions, decreasing quality of life, unbearable medical costs, and misery, as well as continued environmental exhaustion and endless resource wars. Which do we prefer for ourselves and our offspring?

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Greeley G. (“Gregg”) Miklashek, MD (retired). gmiklashek950@gmail.com

3-5-18, rev 6-16-19, rev 8-28-19

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org.

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  • Christopher Paterson

    Very interesting article relating stress to “our increasing cortisol levels or their collapse”, the “rapidly increasing “diseases of civilization” and the human overpopulation driving them”.

    However, stress is a disease of our civilization caused mainly by social injustice, disregard of our environment and no concern for human well being, aspects that are intrinsic to the economic system we live in.

    Unfortunately, the “easy solution” pointed in the article is not easy at all. Capitalism is an evolving result of our history for at least the last centuries and is deeply entrenched in our ability to desire and produce goods and services, our minds, our culture and our institutions.

    It should be not noted also that although overpopulation has been used correctly in the above citation, population density has been used, wrongly, throughout the article as synonymous of it. Population density is a completely different concept. Urbanization increases density but not necessarily causes overpopulation.

    Finally, the mention to “our forced extensions by all manner of expensive medical technology”, “increasing medical interventions” and “unbearable medical costs” is contradictory. Are we claiming that the incredible advance in medical knowledge and practice is undesirable? Or, that is possible to select who would benefit from medical treatment based on the cost of it? For sure, there is no way back.

    Again, proper living conditions worldwide and healthy lifestyles would radically lower the need for medical treatment but this is not foreseen in this and the next centuries, if we get there, unless there is a drastic change in the way we direct our productive activities.

    • Greeley Miklashek

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I argue that Capitalism is a product of overpopulation and even a defining characteristic, along with the “diseases of civilization” and a key component of “population density stress”. The drive for dominance is inherent to most male primates and the the central cause of capital accumulation. It is a very subtle driver of behavior in sparsely populated traditional living Hunter-Gatherer clans/bands, as the productive efforts of any one member are equally important to the survival of the group, and the core group of senior women are the dominant decision making force in these groups. The young men compete in physical contests to demonstrate prowess/dominance and attract females. Once established, these contests need not be repeated until the hierarchy is disturbed by the loss of a ranking member. Primatologists have written about these dynamics at length.

      Overpopulated, crowded populations of strangers with our constantly shifting hierarchies are very stressful for those at the lower levels, as Robert Sapolsky’s research has described in his baboons. I’m a biologist at heart, so I like measureable variables, like blood/saliva cortisol levels and testosterone levels. The higher the rank, the lower the cortisol (and the lower the incidence of the “diseases of civilization”) and the higher the testosterone levels, as well as reproductive success. For me, “population density stress” is operationally defined by blood/saliva cortisol levels, which I measured in my patients during treatment for “anxiety” and “depression”, as well as “adrenal fatigue”. Again, my use of the term “overpopulation” is empirically determined.

      It is for healthcare funding agencies to determine when medical treatment is “undesireable”. Many patients could not afford to see me for care due to the dictates of their medical insurance carriers, which is why I always divided my time between private practice and some public clinic serving an underserved population unable to afford private care. When I retired, the billing/accounting folks informed me that I had failed to collect approx. $500,000 in “co-pay” fees, which I forgave in total. I live on my Social Security in a 1 BR student apt. and am comfortable. Currently, we Americans spend $4T/yr on healthcare, but that cost is projected to rise to $6T by 2030, unless we institute Medicare For All and its mandatory price controls.

      Without “proper living conditions worldwide and healthy lifestyles”, which necessarily requires a significant population reduction in order to be sustainable on a finite earth, our children and future generations will increasingly suffer from population density stress and the diseases of civilization, including the exploding “diseases of despair” much in the news recently. This is the hard science. The details are in the free e-book, “Stress R Us”, available here at MAHB in the “library”. Good Luck!

  • Andrew Gaines

    I read Stress R Us a year ago, and it is on my To Do list to reread. I recommend it to all MAHB folks.

  • Eric Lee

    We are the humans of NIMH.

    The science of John B. Calhoun was well known and considered in the 1970s, as was that of the Ehrlichs and Meadows, not to mention B.F. Skinner, Garrett Harden, and H.T. Odum whose science doesn’t go away because the intelligentsia came to ignore, marginalize, dismiss, obfuscate, vilify, or demonize the messagers. I transcribed the documentary ‘Critical Mass’ which focused on Calhoun’s science, and added relevant extras including a link to this article. http://www.sustainable.soltechdesigns.com/critical-mass.html

    • Greeley Miklashek

      Thank you, Eric! What a project you’ve completed (?) and I printed off a copy. I’ve watched “Critical Mass” twice on youtube ($1.99) and visted Calhoun’s last office at Jackson Memorial Labs in Bar Harbor, but unfortunately he had passed away a couple of years earlier. Two other names you might be interested in are Charles Southwick, PhD, who ran similar experiments here in Madison in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Also, Jack Christian, PhD, who’s lab I visited, again, just after his death in Binghamton. Calhoun and Southwick believed that social disruption and the consequent loss of parenting caused the entire extinction of the colony that always occurs, however Christian thought the elevation of the stress hormone cortisol was the cause, which is what I was seeing in my psychiatry patients during my 42 year practice.

      You might like to peruse my free e-book here in the e-library as a PDF, or as a PB on Amazon. I believe both causes apply to what I saw and am seeing in the collapse of our ever more crowded modern societies. The book is 623 pages, with 51 “Topics” (aka chapters) and neither copy is complete with the additional 70 pages of graphic material neither contains. The 700 page version is looking for a publisher. Any suggestions?

      Thanks, again, for your tremendous effort! Have you seen a copy of Calhoun’s only book, “ENVIRONMENT AND POPULATION”, “An Experimental Book by 162 authors”, 1983. Have a great evening, and if you ever want to discuss any of this, my email is gmiklashek950@gmail.com. Namaste’