Background Since oxidized LDL is thought to initiate atherosclerosis and the serum glutathione peroxidase (GPx3) reduces oxidized lipids, we investigated whether high GPx3 activity reduces cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. Methods We determined GPx3 in stored samples from the Minnesota Heart Survey of 130 participants who after 5 to 12 years of follow-up had died of CVD and 240 controls. Participants were 26 to 85 years old and predominantly white. In a nested case-control, study we performed logistic regressions to calculate odds ratios (OR) adjusted for age, sex, baseline year, body mass index, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, total and HDL cholesterols, systolic blood pressure, serum glucose and gamma glutamyltransferase (GTT) activity. The referent was the quartile with the highest GPx3 activity (quartile 4). Results OR’s for CVD mortality for increasing quartiles of GPx3 were 2.37, 2.14, 1.83 and 1.00 (P for trend 0.02). This inverse correlation was confined to those with HDLc’s below the median (P for interaction, 0.006). The OR’s for increasing quartiles of GPx3 in this group were 6.08, 5.00, 3.64 and 1.00 (P for trend, 0.002). Conclusions Individuals with both low HDLc and GPx3 activity are at markedly increased risk for death from CVD.