Altered glucose metabolism due to insulin resistance is a common feature of essential hypertension in humans and in animal models. Elevated endogenous aldehydes in genetic (spontaneously hypertensive rats) and acquired (fructose-induced hypertensive rats) models of essential hypertension may be due to increased production of the reactive aldehyde methylglyoxal, resulting from altered glucose metabolism. Excess methylglyoxal binds sulfhydryl groups of membrane proteins, altering calcium channels and increasing cytosolic free Ca(2+) and blood pressure. It has been demonstrated that methylglyoxal, when given in drinking water to Wistar-Kyoto rats, leads to an increase in kidney aldehyde conjugates, cytosolic free Ca(2+) concentration, decreased serum nitric oxide, renal vascular hyperplasia and hypertension. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in the diet of these animals prevented hypertension and associated biochemical and morphological changes. NAC normalizes blood pressure by directly binding to excess methylglyoxal, thus normalizing Ca(2+) channels, cytosolic Ca(2+) and nitric oxide. NAC also leads to increased levels of tissue glutathione, a storage form of cysteine. Glutathione acts as a cofactor in the enzymatic catabolism of methylglyoxal. Cysteine and other antioxidants, such as vitamins B(6), C and E, and lipoic acid, prevented hypertension and associated biochemical and morphological changes in both genetic and acquired rat models of hypertension. The antihypertensive effect of dietary antioxidants may be due to an increase in tissue cysteine and glutathione, which improves glucose metabolism and decreases tissue methylglyoxal. A diet rich in these antioxidants may be effective in preventing and controlling hypertension in humans.