Although in developing countries an apolipoprotein E4 (apoE4) genotype may offer an evolutionary advantage, as it has been shown to offer protection against certain infectious disease, in Westernised societies it is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and represents a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, late-onset Alzheimer's disease and other chronic disorders. ApoE is an important modulator of many stages of lipoprotein metabolism and traditionally the increased risk was attributed to higher lipid levels in E4 carriers. However, more recent evidence demonstrates the multifunctional nature of the apoE protein and the fact that the impact of genotype on disease risk may be in large part due to an impact on oxidative status or the immunomodulatory/anti-inflammatory properties of apoE. An increasing number of studies in cell lines, targeted replacement rodents and human volunteers indicate higher oxidative stress and a more pro-inflammatory state associated with the ε4 allele. The impact of genotype on the antioxidant and immunomodulatory/anti-inflammatory properties of apoE is the focus of the current review. Furthermore, current information on the impact of environment (diet, exercise, smoking status, alcohol) on apoE genotype-phenotype associations are discussed with a view to identifying particular lifestyle strategies that could be adapted to counteract the ‘at-risk’ E4 genotype.