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Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis

  • Elizabeth A. Miles (a1) and Philip C. Calder (a1)


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease of the joints and bones. The n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) arachidonic acid (ARA) is the precursor of inflammatory eicosanoids which are involved in RA. Some therapies used in RA target ARA metabolism. Marine n-3 PUFAs (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) found in oily fish and fish oils decrease the ARA content of cells involved in immune responses and decrease the production of inflammatory eicosanoids from ARA. EPA gives rise to eicosanoid mediators that are less inflammatory than those produced from ARA and both EPA and DHA give rise to resolvins that are anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving, although little is known about these latter mediators in RA. Marine n-3 PUFAs can affect other aspects of immunity and inflammation relevant to RA, including dendritic cell and T cell function and production of inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species, although findings for these outcomes are not consistent. Fish oil has been shown to slow the development of arthritis in animal models and to reduce disease severity. A number of randomised controlled trials of marine n-3 PUFAs have been performed in patients with RA. A systematic review included 23 studies. Evidence is seen for a fairly consistent, but modest, benefit of marine n-3 PUFAs on joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness, global assessments of pain and disease activity, and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

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*Corresponding author: P. C. Calder, fax +44 2380 795255, email


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