Three markers of free radical oxidation of lipids--9 cis, 11 trans isomer of linoleic acid, conjugated dienes and ultraviolet fluorescence products--were measured in the phospholipid fraction of duodenal juice collected in the first 10 min after an intravenous injection of secretin. The volume of aspirate was similar in 11 controls and in 25 patients who had sustained an attack of pancreatitis 6 weeks earlier--acute pancreatitis (AP) 10, chronic pancreatitis (CP) 15. The concentration of each marker was very significantly higher in the patients; the output of the isomer gave the best discrimination from controls; and ultraviolet fluorescence products were substantially higher in the subgroup with CP than with AP. The serum % molar ratio of the isomer to linoleic acid was measured in 25 controls, 14 AP and 17 CP patients: the highest levels were found in the CP group. Heightened hepatic free radical activity involving lipid isomerization as well as lipid peroxidation pathways is a feature of pancreatitis--probably antedating the attack and persisting well after clinical recovery--the difference between CP and AP being in the degree of abnormality. We argue that these hepatic changes mirror changes in pancreatic-acinar cells and that increased free radical activity in both organs is due to a shortfall of antioxidants in the face of cytochromes P450 induction by xenobiotics. Therefore, a combination of preventive and chain-breaking antioxidants may be useful in preventing further attacks of pancreatitis and controlling background pain in chronic disease.