The role of oxidative stress in ischaemic heart disease has been thoroughly investigated in humans. Increased levels of ROS (reactive oxygen species) and RNS (reactive nitrogen species) have been demonstrated during ischaemia and post-ischaemic reperfusion in humans. Depending on their concentrations, these reactive species can act either as benevolent molecules that promote cell survival (at low-to-moderate concentrations) or can induce irreversible cellular damage and death (at high concentrations). Although high ROS levels can induce NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) activation, inflammation, apoptosis or necrosis, low-to-moderate levels can enhance the antioxidant response, via Nrf2 (nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor 2) activation. However, a clear definition of these concentration thresholds remains to be established. Although a number of experimental studies have demonstrated that oxidative stress plays a major role in heart ischaemia/reperfusion pathophysiology, controlled clinical trials have failed to prove the efficacy of antioxidants in acute or long-term treatments of ischaemic heart disease. Oral doses of vitamin C are not sufficient to promote ROS scavenging and only down-regulate their production via NADPH oxidase, a biological effect shared by vitamin E to abrogate oxidative stress. However, infusion of vitamin C at doses high enough to achieve plasma levels of 10 mmol/l should prevent superoxide production and the pathophysiological cascade of deleterious heart effects. In turn, n−3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) exposure leads to enhanced activity of antioxidant enzymes. In the present review, we present evidence to support the molecular basis for a novel pharmacological strategy using these antioxidant vitamins plus n−3 PUFAs for cardioprotection in clinical settings, such as post-operative atrial fibrillation, percutaneous coronary intervention following acute myocardial infarction and other events that are associated with ischaemia/reperfusion.

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