A relationship has been reported between trace elements and diabetes mellitus. This study evaluated the role of such a relationship in 83 patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (40 men and 43 women), with a mean duration of diabetes of 3.9 +/- 3.6 years. Patients with nephropathy were excluded. Thirty healthy non-diabetic subjects were studied for comparative analysis. Subjects were subdivided into obese and non-obese. Diabetic subjects were also subdivided into controlled and uncontrolled groups; control was based on fasting blood glucose and serum fructosamine levels. Plasma copper, zinc and magnesium levels were analysed using a GBC 902 double beam atomic absorption spectrophotometer. Plasma zinc and magnesium levels were comparable between diabetic and non-diabetic subjects, while copper levels were significantly elevated (p < 0.01) in diabetic patients. Age, sex, duration and control of diabetes did not influence copper, zinc, or magnesium concentrations. We conclude that zinc and magnesium levels are not altered in diabetes mellitus, but the increased copper levels found in diabetics in our study may merit further investigation of the relationship between copper and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.