Managing risks: smoking, alcohol and spider veins

Vein conditions, such as spider veins, and other associated conditions are not uncommon: with studies showing that at least one-third of the population is currently living with a vein condition1. That said, just because they are a common condition, there is no reason why you have to suffer in silence. Spider veins appear as blue or red ‘web like’ structures under the skin’s surface, which are caused by tiny capillaries becoming re-routed and growing close to the skin’s surface. This is thought to occur when capillary walls become weakened.

Collagen plays an essential component of vessel walls and when these walls are weak, the capillaries become more visible. There are a number of likely causes of spider veins including heredity vein and circulatory conditions, age, weight, and your activity level. Two key risk factors, which are consistently linked to circulatory problems are smoking and drinking alcohol2. So what is the link to spider veins, and why should you possibly consider a change of lifestyle?

Smoking and spider veins

We are all aware of the negative benefits smoking can have on our bodies: from our respiratory system to our teeth, and our circulation. Unfortunately, the damage does not stop there with smoking also being linked to collagen degradation, potentially reducing its production by up to 40%3. Researchers have clearly established a clear link between smoking and a reduction in collagen which then leads to premature ageing and the thinning of skin which makes spider veins more visible4. In addition, it’s also been suggested that smoking directly reduces the body’s ability to generate collagen5 — known in technical terms as ‘collagen biosynthesis’.

Collagen is an essential protein that gives our skin elasticity and strength.As collagen production decreases with age, skin loses its elasticity, but more importantly, our blood vessel walls (also made of collagen) become weakened too. Coupled with thinner skin, this can be the development of spider veins. While our collagen levels fall as we get older (which is why spider veins are more common in those aged 50 plus), smoking releases chemicals into our bloodstream which directly attack our bodies collagen. The research is clear: the more you smoke, the more likely you are to develop problems with your veins like spider veins or varicose veins — as well as many other conditions.

What about alcohol?

Like smoking, alcohol affects our nutritional status which in turn can affect our body’s ability to renew and repair tissues including collagen. Regular alcohol consumption has the same effect as those experienced when smoking: a reduced nutrient intake will mean a reduction in collagen levels and this makes you much more susceptible to developing spider veins. Expert advice from the NHS (and recently reviewed by the Chief Medical Officer) advises that both men and women now consume no more than 14 units per week — spread evenly over 3 days or more. This gives your body, specifically your circulatory system and liver, a chance to recover.

Double trouble

Spider veins aren’t the only health issues caused and exacerbated by smoking and alcohol consumption. Reducing your intake of alcohol and cutting out smoking can reap major rewards for your body as a whole and therefore impact your overall quality of life.

If you would like to give up smoking, your local GP or pharmacist can help to provide information on local support groups. If you’re concerned about your drinking, your GP can also be of assistance by referring you to recommended organisations that can help to regulate your consumption. It’s fairly simple: to help reduce the risk and impact of developing circulatory problems including spider veins it’s important to reduce alcohol consumption to safe levels and, if possible, stop smoking. Other positive lifestyle changes you can make include eating a balanced and nutritious diet, particularly one rich in antioxidants. Regular aerobic exercise is also important to help maintain or improve the health of your circulatory system.

The above information, prepared by Nature’s Best, is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional, but for more friendly advice a look around our website or talk to one of our Nutrition Advisors.

1. Evans, C.J. et al. (1999) Prevalence of varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency in men and women in the general population: Edinburgh Vein Study.Journal of epidemiology and community health. PMCID: PMC1756838 (
2. Ahti, T.M. et al. (2010) Lifestyle factors and varicose veins: does cross-sectional design result in underestimate of the risk? Phlebology. DOI: 10.1258/phleb.2009.009031
3. Smoking link to premature ageing. (2000)
4. Morita, A. et al. (2009) Molecular basis of tobacco smoke-induced premature skin ageing. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. doi: 10.1038/jidsymp.2009.13
5. Ozguner, F. Koyu, A. Cesur, G. (2005) Active smoking causes stress and decreases blood melatonin levels. Toxicology and Industrial Health. DOI: 10.1191/0748233705th211oa
6. Lieber, C.S. (1991) Alcohol, liver and nutrition. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition. PMID: 1770192 (
7. Leo, A. Lieber, C.S. (1999) Alcohol, vitamin A, and β-carotene: adverse interactions, including hepatotoxicity and carcinogenicity. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. (
8. UK Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review (2016). Department of Health.

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.