Oxidative stress in aging can result from an imbalance of prooxidants and antioxidants with excessive, destructive free radical chemistry. Thiol systems are important in the control of these processes, both by protecting against damage and serving in redox signaling mechanisms to sense danger and repair the damage. Studies by a number of research groups in collaboration with the Emory Clinical Biomarkers Laboratory show that the redox state of the central tissue antioxidant, glutathione (GSH), can be measured in human plasma and provides a quantitative systemic indicator of oxidative stress. Plasma GSH/GSSG redox in humans becomes oxidized with age, in response to chemotherapy, as a consequence of cigarette smoking, and in association with common age-related diseases (e.g., type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease). However, the GSH/GSSG redox is not equilibrated with the larger plasma cysteine/cystine (Cys/CySS) pool, and the Cys/CySS redox varies with age in a pattern that is distinct from that of GSH/GSSG redox. Furthermore, in vitro studies show that variation in Cys/CySS redox over the range found in vivo affects signaling pathways, which control cell proliferation and oxidant-induced apoptosis. The results point to the conclusion that free radical scavenging antioxidants are of increased importance when thiol/disulfide redox states are oxidized. Because thiol/disulfide redox states, per se, function in redox signaling and control as well as antioxidant protection, GSH/GSSG and Cys/CySS redox states may provide central parameters to link environmental influences and progression of changes associated with aging.