The polyamines putrescine, spermidine and spermine are essential for cell renewal and, therefore, are needed to keep the body healthy. It was previously believed that polyamines are synthesized by every cell in the body when required. However, in the present paper evidence is provided to show that, as in the case of the essential amino acids, the diet can supply sufficient amounts of polyamines to support cell renewal and growth. Systematic analysis of different foods was carried out and from the data obtained, the average daily polyamine consumption of British adults was calculated to be in the range 350–500 μmol/person per d. The major sources of putrescine were fruit, cheese and non-green vegetables. All foods contributed similar amounts of spermidine to the diet, although levels were generally higher in green vegetables. Meat was the richest source of spermine. However, only a part of the polyamines supplied by the diet is available for use by the body. Based on experiments with rats it was established that polyamines were readily taken up from the gut lumen, probably by passive diffusion, and were partly metabolized during the process of absorption. More than 80% of the putrescine was converted to other polyamines and non-polyamine metabolites, mostly to amino acids. The enzyme responsible for controlling the bioavailability of putrescine was diamine oxidase (EC 188.8.131.52). For spermidine and spermine, however, about 70–80% of the intragastrically intubated dose remained in the original form. Considering the limitations on bioavailability (metabolism and conversion), the amounts of polyamines supplied by the average daily diet in Britain should satisfy metabolic requirements.