Clinical trials with vitamin E have yielded contrasting results. In these trials, the amount of vitamin E given was different, and the compliance was not assessed in all studies. In addition, the modality of intake, ie, in relation to food, was not specified in any trial. Vitamin E is lipophilic, and its absorption is expected to be increased by food. We studied the bioavailability of vitamin E in relation to food intake and the effect on the lipid peroxide-scavenging activity of plasma and on 7beta-hydroxycholesterol and 7-ketocholesterol (oxysterols) as markers of oxidant stress. Twenty healthy Italian subjects were randomly assigned to take vitamin E at 300 mg/d on an empty stomach (group A) or during dinner (group B) for 15 days. Plasma vitamin E markedly increased in group B (84%) compared with group A (29%). The lipid peroxide-scavenging activity of plasma increased significantly in group B (14%, P=0.005) but did not change in group A. All subjects showed very low levels of plasma oxysterols, which were not affected by vitamin E supplementation in either group. This study shows that plasma concentration of vitamin E and plasma antioxidant activity in response to oral supplementation are markedly affected by food intake. Healthy Italian subjects show very low levels of cholesterol oxidation products; these low levels are possibly related to the Mediterranean diet. To obtain maximal absorption, vitamin E must be given at meals. These data should be taken into account in clinical trials with vitamin E.