Protective effects of curcumin (U1), one of the major yellow pigments in turmeric and its derivative, tetrahydrocurcumin (THU1), against ferric nitrilotriacetate (Fe-NTA)-induced oxidative renal damage were studied in male ddY mice. Single Fe-NTA treatment (5 mg Fe/kg body intraperitoneally) transiently causes oxidative stress, as shown by the accumulation of lipid peroxidation products and 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine in the kidney. Mice were fed with a diet containing 0.5 g/100 g U1 or THU1 for 4 wk. THU1 significantly inhibited 2-thiobarbituric acid reactive substances and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal-modified proteins and 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine formation in the kidney; U1 inhibited only 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal-modified protein formation. To elucidate the mechanisms of protection by U1 and THU1, the pharmacokinetics and radical-scavenging capacities of U1 and THU1 were investigated by HPLC and electron spin resonance spin trapping with 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline-N-oxide, respectively. Induction of antioxidant enzymes was also investigated. The amounts of THU1 and its conjugates (as sulfates and glucuronides) in the liver and serum were larger in the THU1 group than in the U1 group. The amounts of U1 and its conjugates were small even in the U1 group. These results suggest that THU1 is more easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract than U1. Furthermore, THU1 induced antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione peroxidase, glutathione S-transferase and NADPH: quinone reductase, as well as or better than U1 and scavenged Fe-NTA-induced free radicals in vitro better than U1. These results suggest that U1 is converted to THU1 in vivo and that THU1 is a more promising chemopreventive agent.