An imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants in favour of the oxidants, potentially leading to damage, is termed 'oxidative stress'. Oxidants are formed as a normal product of aerobic metabolism but can be produced at elevated rates under pathophysiological conditions. Antioxidant defense involves several strategies, both enzymatic and non-enzymatic. In the lipid phase, tocopherols and carotenes as well as oxy-carotenoids are of interest, as are vitamin A and ubiquinols. In the aqueous phase, there are ascorbate, glutathione and other compounds. In addition to the cytosol, the nuclear and mitochondrial matrices and extracellular fluids are protected. Overall, these low molecular mass antioxidant molecules add significantly to the defense provided by the enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidases.