Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is widely regarded as a cytotoxic agent whose levels must be minimized by the action of antioxidant defence enzymes. In fact, H2O2 is poorly reactive in the absence of transition metal ions. Exposure of certain human tissues to H2O2 may be greater than is commonly supposed; levels of H2O2 in the human body may be controlled not only by catabolism but also by excretion, and H2O2 could play a role in the regulation of renal function and as an antibacterial agent in the urine. Cell culture is a widely used method for the investigation of "physiological" processes such as signal transduction and regulation of gene expression, but chemical reactions involving cell culture media are rarely considered. Addition of reducing agents to commonly used cell-culture media can lead to generation of substantial amounts of H2O2. Some or all of the reported effects of ascorbic acid and polyphenolic compounds (e.g., quercetin, catechin, epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin gallate) on cells in culture may be due to H2O2 generation by interaction of these compounds with cell culture media.