Epidemiological studies have revealed a strong correlation between high intake of fruit and vegetables and low incidence of certain cancers. Micronutrients present in these foods are thought to decrease free radical attack on DNA and hence protect against mutations that cause cancer, but the fine details of the causal mechanism have still to be elucidated. Whether dietary factors can modulate DNA repair--a crucial element in the avoidance of carcinogenesis--is an intriguing question that has not yet been satisfactorily answered. In order to investigate the effects of beta-carotene on oxidative damage and its repair, volunteers were given a single 45 mg dose and lymphocytes taken before and after the supplement were treated in vitro with H2O2. DNA strand breaks and oxidised pyrimidines were measured at intervals, to monitor the removal of oxidative DNA damage. We found inter-individual variations in response. In cases where the baseline plasma beta-carotene concentration was high, or where supplementation increased the plasma concentration, recovery from oxidative damage (i.e. removal of both oxidised pyrimidines and strand breaks) was relatively rapid. However, what seems to be an enhancement of repair might in fact represent an amelioration of the continuing oxidative stress encountered by the lymphocytes under in vitro culture conditions. We found that culture in a 5% oxygen atmosphere enhanced recovery of lymphocytes from H2O2 damage.