BACKGROUND:: Intake of fish oil and oily fish has been reported to improve clinical symptoms in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Whether the intake of oily fish and fish oil might also protect against the development of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. OBJECTIVE:: We investigated the association between intake of oily fish and fish oil supplements and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in a population-based case-control study.

METHODS:: The study comprised 1889 incident cases of rheumatoid arthritis and 2145 randomly selected controls recruited from a geographically defined area of Sweden during 1996-2005. Data on the consumption of oily fish and fish oil supplements 5 years preceding enrollment had been obtained through a questionnaire. We calculated odds ratios (ORs) for the development of rheumatoid arthritis, using logistic regression to adjust for age, residential area, body mass index, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

RESULTS:: Compared with subjects who never or seldom consumed oily fish, the OR for developing rheumatoid arthritis was 0.8 (95% confidence interval = 0.6-1.0) for subjects who consumed oily fish 1-7 times a week. The results did not change notably when stratifying the cases for rheumatoid factor or for antibodies to citrullinated peptide antigens. Similar results were seen for subjects consuming oily fish 1-3 times a month. Cases and controls did not differ in their consumption of fish oil supplements.

CONCLUSION:: Intake of oily fish was associated with a modestly decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Keywords: rheumatoid arthritis - oily fish, fish oil, diet