Collagen and spider veins: what’s the link?

Despite what advertisers might tell you, there really is no secret to preventing the ageing process. However, there is an understanding among scientists, that one of the most important ways to keep skin looking and feeling young, is to maintain healthy levels of collagen.

Collagen is a matrix of protein fibres manufactured in the body that essentially provides structure for our skin, giving it a firm feel and sense of elasticity. When we’re young our collagen levels are naturally high, as our body is most effective at consistently reproducing the collagen protein. However, as we age, production slows. As our collagen levels reduce, and skin is exposed to the sun and other damaging elements take their toll, we start to see tell-tale signs of ageing, and an increased risk of developing health problems associated with weakened collagen, including spider veins.

Of course, this is nothing new to many of us, but it’s not the end of the story. Recent research is helping scientists to understand the essential role that collagen plays in the body, and in particular the health of our microcirculation. It’s leading them to conclude that lower levels of collagen could contribute to the development of spider veins, and their more serious relative varicose veins1. The good news is, is that while collagen production naturally declines as we age, there are some measures we can take to reduce the effects they might have.

What causes spider veins?

When spider veins develop, they appear as ‘spider web’ structures on the skin — the analogy with the name spider veins. In addition, with ageing the skin loses its plumpness and thins and we are then more likely to see these blood vessels appearing near the skin’s surface as spider veins.

The human body is a pretty efficient machine, however, we now know that several factors influence the appearance of our skin. A number of theories have been posited including diet, lifestyle, hormone levels or simply spending too much time on your feet. Scientists now believe that one of the reasons for the development of spider veins could be due to a deterioration in the skin’s firmness as a result of collagen degradation.

The blood vessels in our body are supported by a scaffolding of collagen fibres. So when collagen becomes weakened, the vessels themselves can become compromised or weakened leading to `leaky` or damaged blood vessel walls.

Can collagen cure my spider veins?

While the research isn’t conclusive, there is evidence to suggest that maintaining levels of collagen can help to reduce the likelihood of spider veins occurring.

The health of our circulation can be improved by eating a balanced diet including vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C is one of the key vitamins for blood vessel health3: found in fruits and vegetable such as oranges, strawberries, red peppers and blackcurrants.

In addition, consider finding a way to incorporate more antioxidants into your everyday diet or supplement programme, especially foods containing Vitamin E4. You can find Vitamin E in abundance in staples of the Mediterranean diet such as plant oils, soy, corn and olive oil as well as in nuts, seeds and wheat germ. Finally, given that collagen is a protein, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that eating protein rich foods such as lean meats, fish or plant sourced proteins like soy, Quorn and tofu, can have a positive impact on collagen levels too.

Is there anything that might damage my collagen levels?

We’ve told you what to do, now it’s time to tell you what you shouldn’t do. Sun, smoking and excessive sugar consumption are the three of the biggest threats to your body’s collagen production.

Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause collagen fibres to break down. It’s estimated we lose 1% collagen every year and so staying out of the sun (or using a high factor sun cream if your skin is exposed) is probably the most important way you can maintain your collagen levels.

Smoking isn’t just bad for your health, it’s incredibly damaging to your skin too5. In one study, the production of collagen was up to 22 per cent lower among smokers, compared with nonsmokers. Smokers also had significantly higher levels (100 per cent) of collagen-destroying metalloproteinases (MMP`s)8. These MMP`s are the body`s own enzymes and they destroy collagen.

Finally, whilst many of us crave sugary foods, its effects on the skin are not so great. Scientists believe that sugar creates something called Advanced Glycation End (with the obvious acronym: AGE) in all human cells and this negatively impacts the production of collagen6.

If you already have spider veins, by increasing the levels of collagen in your body, you will be helping to slow down their development. It’s important that you take action as soon as possible; spider veins can become progressively worse over time. If you’d like to find out more about vein health, collagen, and spider veins, explore our website or talk to one of our Nutrition Advisors for free advice.

References

1. Wali, MA and Eid, RA. (2002). Changes of elastic and collagen fibers in varicose veins. International Angiology. PMID: 12518113 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12518113)
2. Ghaderian, S. and Khodaii, Z. (2012) Tissue remodeling investigation in varicose veins. International Journal of Molecular and Cellular Medicine. PMCID: PMC3920493. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3920493/)
3. Shaw, G. et al. (2016) Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. American Journal of clinical nutrition. ajcn.116.138594v1105/1/136 (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/11/15/ajcn.116.138594.abstract)
4. Schagen, S K et al. (2012) Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato endocrinology. doi: 10.4161/derm.22876 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/)
5. Knuutinen, A. Et al (2002) Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin. Journal of Dermatology. PMID: 11966688. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11966688)
6. Gkogkolou, P. and Böhm, M. (2012) Advanced glycation end products. Demrato Endocrinology. doi: 10.4161/derm.22028 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583887/)
7. Weiss R. Varicose veins and spider veins. Medscape Drugs and Diseases. 2016. Accessed 20 February 2017 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1085530-overview#showall
8. Knuutinen A, Kokkonen N, Risteli J, et al. Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin. Br J Dermatol. 2002;146(4):588-94. Accessed 6 March 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11966688

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie is an experienced medical content specialist and strategist, having worked for NHS Bristol and a number of medical-based charities.