High erythrocyte levels of the n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid are associated with lower risk of subsequent rheumatoid arthritis in a Southern European nested case-control study.

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  • Dora Romaguera
  • Helena L Fisk
  • Philip C Calder
  • Anne-Marie Quirke
  • Alison J Cartwright
  • Salvatore Panico
  • Amalia Mattiello
  • Diana Gavrila
  • Carmen Navarro
  • Carlotta Sacerdote
  • Paolo Vineis
  • Rosario Tumino
  • William E Ollier
  • Dominique S Michaud
  • Elio Riboli
  • Patrick J Venables

Colleges, School and Institutes


OBJECTIVES: Findings relating to dietary intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are mixed. Erythrocyte membrane PUFA is an accurate objective biomarker of PUFA status; however, there are little data on erythrocyte membrane PUFA and risk of RA. The objective was therefore to compare erythrocyte membrane PUFA between pre-RA individuals and matched controls from a population-based sample, and specifically to test the hypothesis that higher levels of longer chain n-3 PUFA are associated with lower risk of RA.

METHODS: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) is a large European prospective cohort study of apparently healthy populations. We undertook a nested case-control study by identifying RA cases with onset after enrolment (pre-RA) in four EPIC cohorts in Italy and Spain. Confirmed pre-RA cases were matched with controls by age, sex, centre, and date, time and fasting status at blood collection. Conditional logistic regression analysis was used to estimate associations of PUFA with the development of RA, adjusting for potential confounders including body mass index, waist circumference, education level, physical activity, smoking status and alcohol intake.

RESULTS: The study analysed samples from 96 pre-RA subjects and 258 matched controls. In this analysis, the median time to diagnosis (defined as time between date of blood sample and date of diagnosis) was 6.71 years (range 0.8-15). A significant inverse association was observed with n-6 PUFA linoleic acid (LA) levels and pre-RA in the fully adjusted model (highest tertile: OR 0.29; 95% CI 0.12 to 0.75; P for trend 0.01). No association was observed with any individual n-3 PUFA, total n-3 PUFA or total n-3:n-6 ratio.

CONCLUSIONS: Erythrocyte levels of the n-6 PUFA LA were inversely associated with risk of RA, whereas no associations were observed for other n-6 or n-3 PUFA. Further work is warranted to replicate these findings and to investigate if lower LA levels are a bystander or contributor to the process of RA development.


Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the Rheumatic Diseases
Early online date7 Feb 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Feb 2018


  • Journal Article