The aim of this study was to evaluate, retrospectively, which physiological states influenced the effect of vitamin E supplements during the dry period on the level of oxidative stress at 2 wk antepartum. Furthermore the effect of oxidative stress at 2 wk antepartum on the risk of clinical mastitis in early lactation was investigated. Cows experience oxidative stress around calving. Vitamin E is able to decrease oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals. Normally, vitamin E radicals formed when vitamin E reacts with free radicals are regenerated by a network of other antioxidants, termed the 'vitamin E regeneration system' (VERS). In case of vitamin E supplementation, VERS should be sufficient to regenerate formed vitamin E radicals; if not, oxidative stress might increase instead of decrease. Additionally, the level of oxidative stress and vitamin E might be important physiological states to evaluate before supplementation. In a clinical trial, 296 cows on 5 farms were randomly divided into 2 groups, supplemented with a mineral mix between dry off and calving that supplied 3,000 or 135 IU/d, respectively. Blood samples collected at dry off and 2 wk antepartum were analyzed for vitamin E, reactive oxygen metabolites, ferric-reducing ability of plasma, glutathione peroxidase, and malondialdehyde. Cows were allocated retrospectively into 8 subgroups based on the level of oxidative stress, vitamin E, and VERS status at dry off. To evaluate whether differences in physiological states at dry off influenced the effect of vitamin E supplementation on the level of oxidative stress, group effects (supplemented vs. control) were studied with Student's t-test for all 8 subgroup at 2 wk antepartum. Differences in physiological states at dry off influenced the effect of vitamin E supplements. In 2 insufficient VERS subgroups, the supplemented group had higher levels of freeradicals at 2 wk antepartum compared with the control group. Relative risk calculation was used to study the effect of oxidative stress at 2 wk antepartum on the incidence of mastitis in the first 100 d of lactation. Higher levels of oxidative stress at 2 wk antepartum were related to higher risk of clinical mastitis. In conclusion, not every dry cow responded well to high vitamin E supplementation. This subgroup analysis provides a possible explanation for the unexpected adverse effects observed in the clinical trial.