Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by infiltration of T lymphocytes, macrophages and plasma cells into the synovium, and the initiation of a chronic inflammatory state that involves overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines and a dysregulated T-helper-1-type response.

Eicosanoids synthesized from arachidonic acid and cytokines cause progressive destruction of cartilage and bone. The n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid is the precursor of di-homo-gamma-linolenic acid.

The latter and the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid, which is found in fish oil, are able to decrease the production of arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids and to decrease the production of proinflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species, and the reactivity of lymphocytes.

A number of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of gamma-linolenic acid and fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis have shown significant improvements in a variety of clinical outcomes.

These fatty acids should be included as part of the normal therapeutic approach to rheumatoid arthritis. However, it is unclear what the optimal dosage of the fatty acids is, or whether there would be extra benefit from using them in combination.