Natural Biohacks: Takeaways from the Helsinki Biohackers Summit

Justin Lawler
Biohackers Collective
5 min readDec 29, 2016

Nature was a big theme at the conference in Finland.

We have this craving to be more in touch with nature. Hiking, Obstacle course races, how we feel so disconnected during winter months of limited daylight.

But there are so many health benefits to getting connected with nature.

But when we disconnect…

Being out of sync with nature hurts our health

When our bodies are running a different clock to the days, our health is impacted — shift workers impacted most.

When we are not eating natural, in season, organic food, we are slowly starving our bodies of the nutrients it needs.

When we’re not getting into nature regularly, we’re missing out on all the benefits for stress, for our immune system and blood pressure.

The environments we live in are constantly signalling to our body. The food we eat, where we spend our time, exposure to daylight, to hot and cold with seasons.

Each of these environmental triggers work with our bodies. A cascade of hormones and processes regulated by how we live.

Ancestral approach to health

The Ancestral health movement respects that we have evolved in natural environments for millions of years.

Think what’s better for babies. Powdered or breast milk?

Same with throughout our lives. Rising with the sun is better than shift work. Organic over processed foods. Getting into forests over long days in office environments.

If we think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Ancestral tribes ate what they picked or caught. They lived according to the day’s and the seasons. There wasn’t refined sugar. Diabetes, heart disease and so many of the modern diseases rare.

At the summit, we had Ben Greenfield, a podcaster, coach and author on human performance, talked about ancestral health. Ben talked about natural ways we can all post our performance and improve our health keeping with the principals of ancestral health.

Out of touch with nature in the Antarctic

Beth Healy, a speaker at the conference spoke about her time living 14 months in Antarctica.

Beth was part of the European Space Agency’s experiments into how extreme environments impact our bodies and our social interactions.

During the 14 months, Beth and her crew lived without daylight for 105 days.

The sun brings so much more than just vitamin D. There are so many other physical processes in the body regulated and impacted.

And there are so many psychological impacts.

105 days without sunlight is pretty extreme. But we all have days during the winter without seeing the sun. Getting to and leaving the office while its dark. Not getting out at lunchtime because of meetings.

Beth talked about how she struggled during nightfall. How she couldn’t sleep at all for the first few nights. And the sense of relief and joy she felt when dawn finally broke on Antarctica.

Living in sync with the days

Over the course of the day, our bodies undergo many processes — many triggered by external factors like daylight.

We might not be able to escape winter days and office hours, but we can learn to ‘hack’ them.

Morning processes can be triggered by morning sunlight. Or if not possible, strong artificial lights like SAD lights that contain a blue component.

Blue light stops melatonin to wake us up.

To get us to sleep in the evening we need to remove blue light.

Smart phones and many electronics have blue light components in them. There are apps like f.lux to reduce blue light from our phones.

One step further is wearing blue-light blocking sunglasses. Swanwick who have their own sun-glasses had a stand and the conference, and many conference goers were wearing them in the evening.

Living in sync with the seasons

Just like with the days, there are processes in the body triggered by seasons.

Fasting during the winter months and refuelling our bodies during summer, stresses our bodies mildly, building strength.

Eating in-season foods means we’re getting fresh, nutrient-dense foods at times we need them most. It also means our bodies aren’t getting slightly intolerant to one food source.

Living in sync with nature

‘Forest bathing’, being in the presence of tress, has been part of the Japanese public health program for the last 20 years.

Health is improved by getting away from city life stress, from better air quality, breathing in the natural oils from the trees.

The Japanese studied the health benefits of forest bathing over the last 15 years, the benefits are real. Stress biomarkers, blood pressure, heart rate are all improved.

And it’s simple as well! Just going for a walk in the forest.

The top 5 natural biohacks we can use now

  1. Get into daylight every single day. Going for a walk in the morning best to reset natural processes in our bodies.
  2. Minimise smartphones in the evening, or reduce blue-light exposure to improve sleep.
  3. Eat more food in season to improve gut health.
  4. Organic or whole-foods over processed foods.
  5. Hikes in forests has many benefits to stress and heart health.

Blog Post Series

Over the next few posts I’ll dig into more of what I learned in Helsinki.

  1. Introduction to Biohacking
  2. Hot & Cold
  3. Nature
  4. Mind
  5. Nutrition
  6. Stress
  7. Work
  8. Longevity


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Justin Lawler
Biohackers Collective

Self-Quantifier, tech-lover and biohacker. Organiser of Dublin Quantified Self. Developer. More at