A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies on the association between animal protein sources and risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Clin Nutr. 2021 Jun 5;40(7):4644-4652. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2021.05.026. Online ahead of print.


Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the linear and nonlinear dose-response associations of animal-based dietary protein intake and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: A systematic search of MEDLINE, Scopus and Embase was conducted up to October 2020. Observational studies that report risk estimates of RA for animal-based protein consumption were included. We calculated pooled relative risks (RRs) by using a random-effects model. Linear and non-linear dose-response analyses were performed to examine the dose-response relations between animal-based protein consumption and RA.

Results: Seven cohort studies (n = 457,554) with 3545 incident cases and six case-control studies with 3994 cases and 5252 controls were identified. Highest compared with the lowest category of fish consumption was inversely associated with risk of RA (RR: 0.89; 95% CI, 0.80 to 0.99; I2 = 0%, n = 10). Also, a 100 g/day increment in fish intake was associated with a 15% decreased risk of RA. Dose-response analysis showed a modest U-shaped association between fish consumption and incidence of RA, with the lowest risk at a fish intake of 20-30 g/day (Pnon-linearity = 0.04). We found no significant association between consumption of red meat, poultry or dairy and the risk of RA.

Conclusion: The present study revealed a significant reverse association between fish consumption and risk of RA. While we observed no association between red meat, dairy or poultry consumption and risk of RA. Further well-designed prospective studies are needed to support our findings.

Keywords: Animal protein; Fish; Meta-analysis; Rheumatoid arthritis.