The effects of water extracts from Cassia tora L. (WECT) treated with different degrees of roasting (unroasted and roasted at 150, 200, and 250 degrees C) on the oxidative damage to deoxyribose, DNA, and DNA base in vitro were investigated. It was found that WECT alone induced a slight strand breaking of DNA. In the presence of Fe(3+)/H(2)O(2), WECT accelerated the strand breaking of DNA at a concentration of 2 microg/mL; however, it decreased with increasing concentrations (>5 microg/mL) of WECT. WECT also accelerated the oxidation of deoxyribose induced by Fe(3+)-EDTA/H(2)O(2) at a concentration of 0.2 mg/mL but inhibited the oxidation of deoxyribose induced by Fe(3+)-EDTA/H(2)O(2)/ascorbic acid. Furthermore, WECT accelerated the oxidation of 2'-deoxyguanosine (2'-dG) to form 8-OH-2'-dG induced by Fe(3+)-EDTA/H(2)O(2). The prooxidant action of WECT on the oxidation of 2'-dG was in the order of unroasted > roasted at 150 degrees C > roasted at 200 degrees C > roasted at 250 degrees C. The decrease in the prooxidant activity of the roasted sample might be due to the reduction in its anthraquinone glycoside content or the formation of antioxidant Maillard reaction products after roasting. Thus, WECT exhibited either a prooxidant or an antioxidant property in the model system that was dependent on the activities of the reducing metal ions, scavenging hydroxyl radical, and chelating ferrous ion.