Oxidation of lipids has been implicated in the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis. It has been suggested that scavenging of lipid peroxyl radicals contribute to the antiatherosclerotic effects of naturally occurring compounds such as the isoflavones. This group of polyphenolics includes genistein and is present in relatively high concentrations in food products containing soy. Soy isoflavones are capable of inhibiting lipoprotein oxidation in vitro and suppressing formation of plasma lipid oxidation products in vivo. However, key aspects of the antioxidant mechanisms remain unknown. In this study the antioxidant effects of genistein and other soy isoflavones on lipid peroxidation initiated by mechanistically diverse oxidants was investigated. Although isoflavones inhibited lipid peroxidation stimulated by both metal-dependent and independent processes, the concentration required for these effects were relatively high compared to those found in vivo. Interestingly, however, isoflavones were not consumed and remained in the native state over the time during which inhibition of lipid peroxidation was observed. This was also the case under conditions where synergistic inhibition of LDL oxidation was observed with ascorbate. Furthermore, in an oxidation system driven solely by peroxyl radicals, isoflavones were found to be relatively poor peroxyl radical scavengers. Consistent with the apparent lack of reactivity with lipid-derived oxidants, isoflavones were also relatively resistant to oxidation mediated by the potent oxidant peroxynitrite. The potential antioxidant mechanisms of isoflavones are discussed in the context of possible reactivities of isoflavone-derived phenoxyl radicals.