Flavan-3-ols are potent antioxidants in vitro, but convincing evidence for antioxidant action in vivo is lacking. We examined whether an oxidative stress-mediated increase in plasma F(2)-isoprostanes is counteracted by a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage. Twenty volunteers were examined in a comparative randomized double-blind crossover design with respect to ingestion of high-flavanol cocoa drink(HFCD; 187 mg flavan-3-ols/100 ml) vs. low-flavanol cocoa drink (LFCD; 14 mg/100 ml). With 10 individuals, the treatment was combined with strenuous physical exercise. Total (esterified plus nonesterified) F(2)-isoprostanes were analyzed by GC/MS. LFCD caused a slight increase in the mean (+/- SEM) plasma concentrations of F(2)-isoprostanes 2 and 4 h after intake (2.16 +/- 0.19 nM at 4 h vs. 1.76 +/- 0.11 nM at 0 h, n = 10), which may be attributable to postprandial oxidative stress. This increase did not occur with HFCD (1.57 +/- 0.06 nM at 4 h vs. 1.65 +/- 0.10 nM at 0 h, n = 10). The difference in F(2)-isoprostanes 2 and 4 h after intake of HFCD vs. LFCD became statistically significant when the intake was combined with physical exercise (P < 0.01, ANOVA). We conclude that dietary flavanols, using cocoa drink as example, can lower the plasma level of F(2)-isoprostanes, indicators of in vivo lipid peroxidation.