To analyse the association between dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in middle-aged and older women from the Swedish Mammography Cohort, a population-based prospective study.

Data on diet were collected in 1987 and 1997 via a self-administered food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The risk of RA associated with dietary long-chain n-3 PUFAs and fish intake was estimated using Cox proportional hazard regression models, adjusted for age, cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, use of aspirin and energy intake.

Among 32 232 women born 1914-1948, 205 RA cases were identified during a mean follow-up of 7.5 years (1 January 2003 to 31 December 2010; 2 41 120 person-years). An intake of dietary long-chain n-3 PUFAs (FFQ1997) of more than 0.21 g/day (lowest quintile) was associated with a 35% decreased risk of developing RA (multivariable adjusted relative risk (RR) 0.65; 95% CI 0.48 to 0.90) compared with a lower intake. Long-term intake consistently higher than 0.21 g/day (according to both FFQ1987 and FFQ1997) was associated with a 52% (95% CI 29% to 67%) decreased risk. Consistent long-term consumption (FFQ1987 and FFQ1997) of fish ≥1 serving per week compared with<1 was associated with a 29% decrease in risk (RR 0.71; 95% CI 0.48 to 1.04).

This prospective study of women supports the hypothesis that dietary intake of long-chain n-3 PUFAs may play a role in aetiology of RA.