Metabolic diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes, and dyslipidemia are a rising cause of mortality worldwide. The progression of many metabolic diseases is fundamentally regulated on the transcriptional level by a family of ligand-activated transcription factors, called nuclear receptors, which detect and respond to metabolic changes. Their role in maintaining metabolic homeostasis makes nuclear receptors an important pharmaceutical and dietary target. This review will present the growing evidence that flavonoids, natural secondary plant metabolites, are important regulators of nuclear receptor activity. Structural similarities between flavonoids and cholesterol derivatives combined with the promiscuous nature of most nuclear receptors provide a wealth of possibilities for pharmaceutical and dietary modulation of metabolism. While the challenges of bringing flavonoid-derived therapeutics to the market are significant, we consider this rapidly growing field to be an essential aspect of the functional food initiative and an important mine for pharmaceutical compounds.
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