Spice components and their active principles are potential antioxidants. In this study we examined the effect of phenolic and non-phenolic active principles of common spices on copper ion-induced lipid peroxidation of human low density lipoprotein (LDL) by measuring the formation of thiobarbituric acid reactive substance (TBARS) and relative electrophoretic mobility (REM) of LDL on agarose gel. Curcumin, capsaicin, quercetin, piperine, eugenol and allyl sulfide inhibited the formation of TBARS effectively through out the incubation period of 12 h and decreased the REM of LDL. Spice phenolic active principles viz. curcumin, quercetin and capsaicin at 10 microM produced 40-85% inhibition of LDL oxidation at different time intervals while non-phenolic antioxidant allyl sulfide was less potent in inhibiting oxidation of LDL. However, allyl sulfide, eugenol and ascorbic acid showed pro-oxidant activity at lower concentrations (10 microM) and antioxidant activity at higher concentrations (50 microM) only. Among the spice principles tested quercetin and curcumin showed the highest inhibitory activity while piperine showed least antioxidant activity at equimolar concentration during initiation phase of oxidation of LDL. The inhibitory effect of curcumin, quercetin and capsaicin was comparable to that of BHA, but relatively more potent than ascorbic acid. Further, the effect of curcumin, quercetin, capsaicin and BHA on initiation and propagation phases of LDL oxidation showed that curcumin significantly inhibited both initiation and propagation phases of LDL oxidation, while quercetin was found to be ineffective at propagation phase. These data suggest that the above spice active principles, which constitute about 1-4% of above spices, are effective antioxidants and offer protection against oxidation of human LDL.