Polyphenols are wide variety of compounds that occur in fruits and vegetables, wine, tea, extra virgin olive oil, chocolate and other cocoa products. Several polyphenols have been demonstrated to have clear antioxidant properties in vitro, and many of their biological actions have been attributed to their intrinsic reducing capabilities. However, this concept appears now to be a simplistic way to conceive their activity. Evidence is indeed accumulating that polyphenols might exert several other specific biological effects that are as yet poorly understood. In this article we review the most recent data on the subject and describe the additional functions that polyphenols can have in biological systems, focusing on their effects on glutathione and its related enzymes. Experimental data indicate that polyhenols may offer an indirect protection by activating endogenous defense systems. Several lines of evidence suggest a tight connection between exogenous and endogenous antioxidants that appear to act in a coordinated fashion. It is reasonable to hypothesize that this is achieved, at least in part, through antioxidant responsive elements (AREs) present in the promoter regions of many of the genes inducible by oxidative and chemical stress. The latest studies strongly suggest that dietary polyphenols can stimulate antioxidant transcription and detoxification defense systems through ARE.