Post-prandial lipaemia (PPL) is a factor in atherogenesis and results in reversible endothelial dysfunction in healthy individuals. Oxidative stress and triglyceride (TG)-rich lipoproteins have been implicated. Type 2 diabetes (NIDDM) results in exaggerated PPL. We attempted to delineate the mechanisms of PPL induced, endothelial dysfunction (EF) and oxidative stress in 12 NIDDM and 12 matched healthy subjects. Subjects underwent a fat tolerance test, with endothelial function assessed by flow-mediated vasodilatation and oxidative stress measured by venous lipid-derived free radicals ex vivo and lipid peroxidation products over the postprandial phase. Fasting TG, post-prandial hypertriglyceridaemia and the TG enrichment of all lipoproteins was significantly greater in NIDDM. Post-prandial endothelial function inversely correlated with fasting HDL-C (r=-0.84, P=0.001) in both the control and NIDDM groups. The deterioration in EF in the NIDDM group also correlated with TG enrichment of VLDL and LDL. PPL in both groups also resulted in increased oxidative stress. The increment in free radicals correlated with TG enrichment of VLDL in both groups and was, therefore, greater in NIDDM. Thus, PPL -- with the production of TG-enrichment of VLDL -- results in endothelial dysfunction by an oxidative stress mechanism in both groups. The magnitude is greater in NIDDM. Fasting HDL-C appears to contribute to the protection of the endothelium against this phenomenon. Hence, exaggerated PPL associated with reduced HDL-C may be important in the pathogenesis of vascular disease, particularly in NIDDM.