The multiple sclerosis (MS) lesion is characterized by an inflammatory cell mediated attack on white matter. Oxidative stress appears to play a role in the onset and progression of MS. We reasoned that decreasing oxidative stress might ameliorate MS. One way of decreasing oxidative stress is to induce phase 2 enzymes. The model chosen to test this hypothesis was experimental allergenic encephalomyelitis (EAE) induced in the Lewis rat. The 26 animals were placed into two groups: 1) those on normal rat chow, 2) those on rat chow containing 250 mumoles t-butylhydroxyanisole (BHA)/kg. After 2 weeks, animals were administered 100 micrograms guinea pig myelin basic protein and examined daily in a blinded fashion. Twenty-nine days later, animals were sacrificed, blood collected for glutathione (GSH) measurements and tissues collected for histology. Six of the 13 control chow animals developed hindlimb weakness or paralysis while 5 developed tail weakness only. Only 1 BHA fed animal exhibited symptoms--hindlimb weakness. Clinical symptoms correlated well with the extent of perivascular lymphocyte infiltration. Animals with BHA in the diet had 20% higher red cell GSH indicting induction of phase 2 enzymes. We conclude that dietary phase 2 enzyme inducers should be examined for their ability to ameliorate MS.