The influence of black currant juice, Bowman-Birk protease inhibitor (BBI), kolaviron (a biflavonoid fraction of Garcinia kola seed), sugars, vitamin C and tert-butyl hydroperoxide on a wide range of biomarkers for oxidative stress, DNA damage and sugar or lipid metabolism has been investigated in male F 344 rats. The selected pro-oxidant control, tert-butyl hydroperoxide, significantly increased plasma and liver 2-amino-adipic semialdehyde (AAS), a marker of protein oxidation (p <0.05) whereas lipid oxidation assessed as malon dialdehyde (MDA) and DNA oxidation were not significantly increased. Feeding BBI also increased the level of oxidized protein in plasma and liver at the higher dose level (0.5%). No effect was observed at the lower dose level (0.25%), which even decreased lipid oxidation in plasma. BBI did not affect background levels of DNA strand breaks or oxidation (comets). In rats exposed to black currant juice, a statistically significant decrease in liver AAS and MDA was observed. This effect could not be explained by its content of sugars or of the known redox active constituent, vitamin C. The lowering effect of black currant juice on protein and lipid oxidation was similar in magnitude to that of the known liver protectant, kolaviron. In rats treated with kolaviron (200 mg/kg body weight), background AAS levels were significantly reduced in both plasma and liver whereas the effect on MDA only reached statistical significance in plasma. Kolaviron was the only extract tested which decreased oxidative damage to DNA in the liver. The erythrocyte antioxidant enzyme activities, catalase and glutathione peroxidase were decreased in rats treated with tert-butyl hydroperoxide (p <0.05) but were not affected by the other treatments. Black currant juice and sugars increased plasma triglyceride levels and black currant juice increased plasma cholesterol but neither of them nor any other treatment affected blood glucose, erythrocyte HbA1c or fructosamine. We conclude that markers of oxidative stress may be modified by several mechanisms after feeding rats with complex dietary factors and that both pro- and antioxidant effects may consequently be observed simultaneously after short-term feeding of antioxidant-rich foods, herb medicines, or known pro- and antioxidants. (C) 2004 Published by Elsevier Ltd.