Endothelial dysfunction is a key feature of diabetes mellitus and is thought to be the major cause of vascular complications associated with the disease. The vascular endothelium demonstrates impaired synthesis of vasodilators and increased release of procoagulants and vasoconstrictors, defects which theoretically could explain the increased incidence of atherosclerosis and hypertension found within this patient group. The pathways mediating endothelial cell layer dysfunction are unknown, although many candidates have been proposed. This review concentrates on the hypothesis that increased oxidative stress combined with abnormal plasma lipid composition leads to reduced synthesis of endothelial vasodilators and hence endothelial dysfunction. Free radical generation is undoubtedly raised in diabetes but the evidence for decreased antioxidant status is debatable. The role of antioxidant and lipid-lowering therapy is considered, but few studies have directly investigated the effect of treatment on vascular function. Concern arises from individual studies of vitamin E in diabetic animals which have proved deleterious. Current literature implies that a combination therapy of vitamin E and vitamin C may be beneficial, but this needs to be investigated further in both animal and human diabetes.