The human diet contains a great variety of natural mutagens and carcinogens, as well as many natural antimutagens and anticarcinogens. Many of these mutagens and carcinogens may act through the generation of oxygen radicals. Oxygen radicals may also play a major role as endogenous initiators of degenerative processes, such as DNA damage and mutation (and promotion), that may be related to cancer, heart disease, and aging. Dietary intake of natural antioxidants could be an important aspect of the body's defense mechanism against these agents. Many antioxidants are being identified as anticarcinogens. Characterizing and optimizing such defense systems may be an important part of a strategy of minimizing cancer and other age-related diseases.