It has been proposed that elevated levels of tissue iron increase the risk for atherosclerosis, perhaps by favoring the formation of pro-atherogenic oxidized LDL. Working with apoE-deficient (apoE(-/-)) mice, which do not require a high-fat diet to develop atherosclerosis, we compared the effects of standard diet (0.02% iron) or a 2% carbonyl iron diet. After 24 weeks, mice fed the 2% carbonyl iron diet had twice as much iron in their plasma, a ninefold increase in bleomycin-detectable free iron in their plasma, and ten times as much iron in their livers as control mice. Dietary iron overload caused a modest (30%) rise in plasma triglyceride and cholesterol. Nevertheless, this regimen did not exacerbate, but rather reduced the severity of atherosclerosis by 50%, and it failed to elevate hepatic levels of heme oxygenase mRNA, which is induced by many different oxidative insults in vitro. Moreover, hepatic levels of protein-bound dityrosine and ortho-tyrosine, two markers of metal-catalyzed oxidative damage in vitro, failed to rise in iron-overloaded animals. Our observations suggest that elevated serum and tissue levels of iron are not atherogenic in apoE(-/-) mice. Moreover, they call into question the hypothesis that elevated levels of tissue iron promote LDL oxidation and oxidative stress in vivo.