Sixty-three adults with the diagnosis of the postviral fatigue syndrome were enrolled in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of essential fatty acid therapy. The patients had been ill for from one to three years after an apparently viral infection, suffering from severe fatigue, myalgia and a variety of psychiatric symptoms. The preparation given contained linoleic, gamma-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids and either it, or the placebo, was given as 8 times 500 mg capsules per day over a 3-month period. The trial was parallel in design and patients were evaluated at entry, one month and three months. In consultation with the patient the doctors assessed overall condition, fatigue, myalgia, dizziness, poor concentration and depression on a 3-point scale. The essential fatty acid composition of their red cell membrane phospholipids was analysed at the first and last visits. At 1 month, 74% of patients on active treatment and 23% of those on placebo assessed themselves as improved over the baseline, with the improvement being much greater in the former. At 3 months the corresponding figures were 85% and 17% (p <0.0001) since the placebo group had reverted towards the baseline state while those in the active group showed continued improvement. The essential fatty acid levels were abnormal at the baseline and corrected by active treatment. There were no adverse events. We conclude that essential fatty acids provide a rational, safe and effective treatment for patients with the post-viral fatigue syndrome.