Flavonoids are a family of polyphenolic compounds which are widespread in nature (vegetables) and are consumed as part of the human diet in significant amounts. There are other types of polyphenols, including, for example, tannins and resveratrol. Flavonoids and related polyphenolic compounds have significant antiinflammatory activity, among others. This short review summarizes the current knowledge on the effects of flavonoids and related polyphenolic compounds on inflammation, with a focus on structural requirements, the mechanisms involved, and pharmacokinetic considerations. Different molecular (cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase) and cellular targets (macrophages, lymphocytes, epithelial cells, endothelium) have been identified. In addition, many flavonoids display significant antioxidant/radical scavenging properties. There is substantial structural variation in these compounds, which is bound to have an impact on their biological profile, and specifically on their effects on inflammatory conditions. However, in general terms there is substantial consistency in the effects of these compounds despite considerable structural variations. The mechanisms have been studied mainly in myeloid cells, where the predominant effect is an inhibition of NF-κB signaling and the downregulation of the expression of proinflammatory markers. At present there is a gap in knowledge of in vitro and in vivo effects, although the pharmacokinetics of flavonoids has advanced considerably in the last decade. Many flavonoids have been studied for their intestinal antiinflammatory activity which is only logical, since the gastrointestinal tract is naturally exposed to them. However, their potential therapeutic application in inflammation is not restricted to this organ and extends to other sites and conditions, including arthritis, asthma, encephalomyelitis, and atherosclerosis, among others.
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