Association of fish intake and smoking with risk of rheumatoid arthritis and age of onset: a prospective cohort study

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2019 Jan 5;20(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s12891-018-2381-3.


Background: Prior studies suggest that fish may be protective for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) risk perhaps through the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acid, but this relationship has not been clearly established. Therefore, we investigated fish intake and RA risk by serologic status, age of onset, and smoking using a prospective cohort study with large sample size, repeated measures of dietary intake, and lengthy follow-up.

Methods: We studied fish intake and RA risk among 166,013 women in two prospective cohorts, the Nurses' Health Study (NHS, 1984-2014) and NHSII (1991-2015). Fish intake was assessed using food frequency questionnaires at baseline and every 4 years. Incident RA during follow-up and serologic status were determined by medical record review. Pooled Cox regression models estimated hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for RA (overall and by serologic status and age at diagnosis) for fish intake frequency. We tested for a smoking-fish interaction for RA risk.

Results: During 3,863,909 person-years of follow-up, we identified 1080 incident RA cases. Increasing fish intake was not associated with all RA (≥4 servings/week: multivariable HR 0.93 [95%CI 0.67-1.28] vs. < 1 serving/month; p for trend = 0.42), seropositive RA (p for trend = 0.66), or seronegative RA (p for trend = 0.45), but had increased risk for RA diagnosed > 55 years old (p for trend = 0.037). Among women ≤55 years old, frequent fish intake (vs. infrequent) had HRs (95%CIs) of: 0.73 (0.52-1.02) for all RA, 0.85 (0.55-1.32) for seropositive RA, and 0.55 (0.32-0.94) for seronegative RA. Ever smokers with infrequent fish intake had highly elevated risk for RA onset ≤55 years (HR 2.59, 95%CI 1.65-4.06), while ever smokers with frequent fish intake had modestly elevated RA risk (HR 1.29, 95%CI 1.07-1.57; vs. never smokers/frequent fish intake; p for smoking-fish interaction = 0.039).

Conclusion: In this large prospective cohort study, we found no clear protective effect of fish or marine omega-3 fatty acid intake on RA risk, overall or by serologic status. We found that fish intake attenuated the strong association of smoking for RA diagnosed ≤55 years of age, but this requires further study.

Keywords: Diet; Epidemiology; Fish; Inflammation; Omega-3 fatty acids; Rheumatoid arthritis; Smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Diet* / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protective Factors
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Seafood* / adverse effects
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology