The purpose of this review is to consider whether an essential biochemical function of zinc (Zn) is to serve as an antioxidant. Zn has been shown to have an antioxidant role(s) in defined chemical systems. Two mechanisms have been elucidated; the protection of sulfhydryl groups against oxidation and the inhibition of the production of reactive oxygens by transition metals. Supraphysiological concentrations of Zn have antioxidant-like effects in organelle-based systems and isolated cell-based systems in vitro. Administration of pharmacological doses of Zn in vivo has a protective effect against general and liver-specific prooxidants. Dietary Zn deficiency causes increased susceptibility to oxidative damage in membrane fractions from some tissues suggesting that increased oxidative stress may be a small but significant component of the pathology observed in dietary Zn deficiency. However, the biochemical basis for Zn deficiency pathology remains unelucidated; critical antioxidant functions for Zn may still be uncovered.