Phytosterols are plant sterols found in foods such as oils, nuts and vegetables. Phytosterols, in the same way as cholesterol, contain a double bond and are susceptible to oxidation. The objective of the present study was to assess the potential toxic effects of β-sitosterol oxides on U937 cells. The effects of increasing concentrations (0-120 μM) of β-sitosterol oxides on cellular cytotoxicity, apoptosis, anti-oxidant status and genotoxicity was assessed over 12, 24 and 48h exposure periods. Following 12h, the viability of cells treated with 120 μM-β-sitosterol oxides was reduced to 51·7% relative to control. At 24 and 48 h, both 60 and 120 μM-β-sitosterol oxides caused a significant decrease in cell viability. For comparison, a decrease in viability of cells treated with a cholesterol oxide, 7β-hydroxycholesterol (7β-OH, 30 μM), was evident at 24 h. An increase in apoptotic cells, assessed using Hoechst 33342, indicates that the mode of cell death in U937 cells following exposure to 7β-OH (30 μM) and β-sitosterol oxides (60 and 120 μM) was by apoptosis. The increase in apoptotic cells after 12h following treatment with 120 μM-β-sitosterol oxides was accompanied by a decrease in cellular glutathione. Similarly, 7β-OH (30 μM) treatment resulted in decreased glutathione at 12 h. Catalase activity was not affected by any of the treatments. β-Sitosterol oxides had no genotoxic effects on U937 and V79 cells as assessed by the comet and sister chromatid exchange assays respectively. In general, the results indicate that thermally oxidised derivatives of β-sitosterol demonstrate similar biological effects as 7β-OH in U937 cells, but at higher concentrations.