Dietary supplementation with fish oils high in the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, may have an antiinflammatory effect. We determined whether patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) could incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into their plasma and cell membrane phospholipids without adverse effects. In this double-blind study, 12 patients with pancreatic insufficiency who have CF (mean age, 12.2 +/- 5.4 (SD) years) and 13 subjects without CF (mean age, 13.4 +/- 6.3 (SD) years) were randomly assigned to ingest 8 gm daily of either encapsulated fish oil (3.2 gm of eicosapentaenoic acid and 2.2 gm of docosahexaenoic acid daily) or olive oil ethyl esters for 6 weeks. Two of seven and two of five patients with CF who received fish and olive oils, respectively, and one of eight and none of five subjects without CF discontinued taking the capsules before 6 weeks because of eructation or diarrhea. Significant incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids into plasma and erythrocyte membrane phospholipids was observed in subjects with and those without CF randomly assigned to the fish oil treatment. For example, in subjects randomly assigned to receive fish oil, the eicosapentaenoic acid/arachidonic acid ratio in plasma increased 9.8-fold, from 0.04 +/- 0.02 (mean +/- SEM) to 0.39 +/- 0.11 (p = 0.02), in the patients with CF (n = 7) and 23.0-fold, from 0.04 +/- 0.01 to 0.92 +/- 0.17 (p = 0.001), in the subjects without CF (n = 8) who received fish oil (p = 0.02, patients with CF vs subjects without CF at 6 weeks). No clinically or statistically significant changes from baseline were observed in platelet aggregation or levels of vitamin E or A in subjects who received fish oil. Future studies are indicated to determine whether omega-3 fatty acid enrichment provides a clinically beneficial antiinflammatory effect in patients with CF.