Peroxidation of the membrane lipid structure of red blood cell leads to haemolysis and anaemia in haemodialysis patients. Dietary constituents of antioxidant vitamins and trace elements may play an important role in protecting against oxidant damage. In this study, the effects of supplementation of vitamin C and zinc on osmotic fragility and lipid peroxidation of erythrocytes were investigated in 34 zinc-deficient haemodialysis patients. Sixteen sex- and age-matched normal volunteers acted as controls. Patients were randomized to receive vitamin C (250 mg day(-1)), zinc (20 mg day(-1)) or a placebo treatment for 3 months. The levels of vitamin C, zinc, malondialdehyde (MDA) and osmotic fragility were measured initially and 3 months after supplementation. Mean serum concentration of vitamin C and zinc increased significantly in the groups at the end of the respective study periods. Supplementation with vitamin C and zinc improved osmotic fragility, and decreased the level of MDA in the groups, but some side-effects (i.e. nausea, vomiting, fever, muscle pain, weakness) were observed during the zinc treatment. The results showed that the supplementation of both treatments decreased osmotic fragilty and MDA in zinc-deficient haemodialysis patients. However, vitamin C treatment was found to be safer than zinc supplementation. Copyright (C) 2001 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.