Increased generation of reactive oxygen species, coupled with impaired endogenous scavenging mechanisms, plays a prominent role in the aetiology of neurovascular abnormalities in experimental diabetes mellitus. We examined the efficacy of the natural anti-oxidants vitamins C, E and beta-carotene in preventing nerve conduction and nutritive blood flow deficits in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. One month of diabetes caused a 19.1% reduction in sciatic motor conduction velocity (p < 0.001). This was approximately prevented 80-90% by high-dose (1000 mg.kg-1.day-1) vitamin E and beta-carotene treatments (p < 0.001). Vitamin C had lesser effects; the maximum protection found for motor conduction velocity was 36% using a dose of 150 mg.kg-1.day-1 (p < 0.001). High dose (500 mg.kg-1.day-1 (p < 0.001). High dose (500 mg.kg-1.day-1) vitamin C had a lesser effect on conduction than intermediate doses. Joint vitamin C and lower dose (500 mg.kg-1.day-1) vitamin E treatment had a predominantly additive preventive effect against nerve dysfunction. Resistance to hypoxic conduction failure for sciatic nerve in vitro was markedly increased by diabetes and this remained relatively unaffected by treatment. Sciatic nutritive endoneurial blood flow, measured using microelectrode polarography and hydrogen clearance, was reduced 46.1% by 1 month of diabetes (p < 0.001). This was prevented to the extent of 87%, 36% and 98% by vitamins E, C and beta-carotene, respectively (p < 0.01). These data emphasize the role of oxidative stress in the development of early neurovascular changes in experimental diabetes and show that naturally available scavengers have a neuroprotective action.