Quercetin is a phenolic antioxidant and has been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation, protecting the lens of the eye (Cornish et al 2002) and renal tubular epithelial cells from oxidant-induced injury (Pietruck et al 2003). The antioxidant activity may be the result of free radical scavenging, metal chelation, enzyme inhibition or the induction of protective enzymes (Erlund 2004).

Quercetin treatment for short periods exerts an antioxidant effect whereas long-term treatment may produce an increase in oxidant activity due to a reduction in glutathione (GSH) levels (Ferraresi et al 2005). In the absence of GSH, potentially harmful oxidation products such as orthoquinone may be produced when quercetin exerts its antioxidant activity. Therefore, adequate GSH levels should be maintained when quercetin is supplemented (Boots et al 2003).

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