Polyunsaturated fatty acids: any role in rheumatoid arthritis?

Lipids Health Dis. 2017 Oct 10;16(1):197. doi: 10.1186/s12944-017-0586-3.


Background: Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are members of the family of fatty acids and are included in the diet. Particularly, western diet is usually low in n-3 PUFAs and high in n-6 PUFAs. PUFAs play a central role in the homeostasis of immune system: n-6 PUFAs have predominantly pro-inflammatory features, while n-3 PUFAs seem to exert anti-inflammatory and pro-resolving properties. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory arthritis in which many inflammatory pathways contribute to joint and systemic inflammation, disease activity, and structural damage. Research on PUFAs could represent an important opportunity to better understand the pathogenesis and to improve the management of RA patients.

Methods: We searched PubMed, Embase, EBSCO-Medline, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), CNKI and Wanfang to identify primary research reporting the role of n-3 PUFAs in rheumatoid arthritis both in humans and in animal models up to the end of March 2017.

Results: Data from animal models allows to hypothesize that n-3 PUFAs supplementation may represent an interesting perspective in future research as much in prevention as in treating RA. In humans, several case-control and prospective cohort studies suggest that a high content of n-3 PUFAs in the diet could have a protective role for incident RA in subjects at risk. Moreover, n-3 PUFAs supplementation has been assessed as a valuable therapeutic option also for patients with RA, particularly in order to improve the pain symptoms, the tender joint count, the duration of morning stiffness and the frequency of NSAIDs assumption.

Conclusions: n-3 PUFAs supplementation could represent a promising therapeutic option to better control many features of RA. The impact of n-3 PUFAs on radiographic progression and synovial histopathology has not been yet evaluated, as well as their role in early arthritis and the combination with biologics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diet therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / prevention & control*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diet / methods
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6