Abnormalities of both free radical activity and ascorbic acid metabolism have been documented in diabetes, but their biological basis is unclear and their relationship unstudied in any detail. This study was designed to compare changes in antioxidant status and free radical reactions in a group of elderly diabetic patients (with and without retinopathy) with those in a group of age-matched control subjects. No significant differences in thiobarbituric acid (TBA) reactivity, red cell glutathione (GSH) concentrations or diene conjugates (DC) between patients and controls were seen despite significant depletion of ascorbic acid in patients with diabetes, especially in those with retinopathy. The results emphasise the present-day difficulties of measuring free radical activity and demonstrate a marked abnormality in ascorbic acid metabolism in diabetes.

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