Much interest has focused on the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols (plant sterols) but limited data suggests they may also possess anti-carcinogenic activity. Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), sourced from meat and dairy products of ruminant animals, has also received considerable attention as a potential anti-cancer agent. Therefore, the aims of this project were to (i) examine the effects of phytosterols and CLA on the viability and growth of human intestinal Caco-2 cells and (ii) determine their potential genoprotective (comet assay), COX-2 modulatory (ELISA) and apoptotic (Hoechst staining) activities. Caco-2 cells were supplemented with the phytosterols campesterol, beta-sitosterol, or beta-sitostanot, or a CLA mixture, or individual CLA isomers (c10t12-CLA, t9t11-CLA) for 48 h. The three phytosterols, at the highest levels tested, were found to reduce both the viability and growth of Caco-2 cells while CIA exhibited isomer-specific effects. None of the phytorsterols protected against DNA damage. At a concentration of 25 mu M, both c10t12-CLA and t9t11-CLA enhanced (P < 0.05) oxidant-induced, but not mutagen-induced, DNA damage. Neither the phytosterols nor CIA induced apoptosis or modulated COX-2 production. In conclusion, campesterol, beta-sitosterol, beta-sitostanol, c10t12-CLA, and t9t11-CLA were not toxic to Caco-2 cells, at the lower levels tested, and did not exhibit potential anti-carcinogenic activity. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.