The ability of a cell to counteract stressful conditions, known as cellular stress response, requires the activation of pro-survival pathways and the production of molecules with anti-oxidant, anti-apoptotic or pro-apoptotic activities. Among the cellular pathways conferring protection against oxidative stress, a key role is played by vitagenes, which include heat shock proteins (Hsps) heme oxygenase-1 and Hsp70, as well as the thioredoxin/thioredoxin reductase system. Heat shock response contributes to establish a cytoprotective state in a wide variety of human diseases, including inflammation, cancer, aging and neurodegenerative disorders. Given the broad cytoprotective properties of the heat shock response there is now strong interest in discovering and developing pharmacological agents capable of inducing stress responses. Dietary antioxidants, such as curcumin, L-carnitine/acetyl-L-carnitine and carnosine have recently been demonstrated in vitro to be neuroprotective through the activation of hormetic pathways, including vitagenes. In the present review we discuss the importance of vitagenes in the cellular stress response and analyse, from a pharmacological point of view, the potential use of dietary antioxidants in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders in humans.