Increased oxidative stress and impaired antioxidant defense mechanisms are important factors in the pathogenesis and progression of diabetes mellitus and other oxidant-related diseases. This study was designed to determine whether alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to have substantial antioxidant properties, when administered (10 mg/kg ip) once daily for 14 days to normal and diabetic female Sprague-Dawley rats would prevent diabetes-induced changes in biomarkers of oxidative stress in liver, kidney and heart. Serum glucose concentrations, aspartate aminotransferase activity, and glycated hemoglobin levels, which were increased in diabetes, were not significantly altered by alpha-lipoic acid treatment. Normal rats treated with a high dose of alpha-lipoic acid (50 mg/kg) survived but diabetic rats on similar treatment died during the course of the experiment. The activity of glutathione peroxidase was increased in livers of normal rats treated with alpha-lipoic acid, but decreased in diabetic rats after alpha-lipoic acid treatment. Hepatic catalase activity was decreased in both normal and diabetic rats after alpha-lipoic acid treatment. Concentrations of reduced glutathione and glutathione disulfide in liver were increased after alpha-lipoic acid treatment of normal rats, but were not altered in diabetics. In kidney, glutathione peroxidase activity was elevated in diabetic rats, and in both normal and diabetic animals after alpha-lipoic acid treatment. Superoxide dismutase activity in heart was decreased in diabetic rats but normalized after treatment with alpha-lipoic acid; other cardiac enzyme activities were not influenced by either diabetes or antioxidant treatment. These results suggest that after 14 days of treatment with an appropriate pharmacological dose, alpha-lipoic acid may reduce oxidative stress in STZ-induced diabetic rats, perhaps by modulating the thiol status of the cells.