Studies of whether polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil--in particular, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids--lower blood pressure have varied in design and results. We conducted a population-based, randomized, 10-week dietary-supplementation trial in which the effects of 6 g per day of 85 percent eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids were compared with those of 6 g per day of corn oil in 156 men and women with previously untreated stable, mild essential hypertension. The mean systolic blood pressure fell by 4.6 mm Hg (P = 0.002), and diastolic pressure by 3.0 mm Hg (P = 0.0002) in the group receiving fish oil; there was no significant change in the group receiving corn oil. The differences between the groups remained significant for both systolic (6.4 mm Hg; P = 0.0025) and diastolic (2.8 mm Hg; P = 0.029) pressure after control for anthropometric, lifestyle, and dietary variables. The decreases in blood pressure were larger as concentrations of plasma phospholipid n-3 fatty acids increased (P = 0.027). Dietary supplementation with fish oil did not change mean blood pressure in the subjects who ate fish three or more times a week as part of their usual diet, or in those who had a base-line concentration of plasma phospholipid n-3 fatty acids above 175.1 mg per liter. We conclude that eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids reduce blood pressure in essential hypertension, depending on increases in plasma phospholipid n-3 fatty acids.