Lactic acid bacteria and the human gastrointestinal tract

Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;53(5):339-50. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600773.


Objective: This review summarises the effects of lactic acid bacteria on lactose malabsorption, bacterial/viral or antibiotic associated diarrhoea, and describes the impact of lactic acid bacteria on cancer and the fermentative products in the colon.

Results: Eight studies (including 78 patients) demonstrated that lactase deficient subjects absorbed lactose in yogurt better than lactose in milk, while two studies (25 patients) did not support this. Two studies (22 patients) showed that unfermented acidophilus milk was absorbed better than milk, while six studies (68 patients) found no significant differences. Addition of lactose hydrolysing enzyme, lactase, to milk improved lactose malabsorption in seven studies (131 lactose malabsorbers), while one study (10 malabsorbers) demonstrated no improvement. Lactic acid bacteria alleviated travellers' diarrhoea in one study (94 individuals) while a study including 756 individuals was borderline statistically significant. One study (50 individuals) did not find an effect of lactic acid bacteria on travellers' diarrhoea. Six studies (404 infants) demonstrated a significant effect of lactic acid bacteria on infant diarrhoea, while one study (40 infants) did not. Lactic acid bacteria moderated antibiotic associated diarrhoea in three studies (66 individuals), while two studies (117 individuals) were insignificant.

Conclusions: Lactase deficient subjects benefit from a better lactose absorption after ingestion of yoghurt compared with milk and from milk added lactase, whereas ingestion of unfermented acidophilus milk does not seem to improve lactose absorption. The majority of studies support that lactic acid bacteria alleviate bacterial/viral induced diarrhoea, especially in infants, while the effect on antibiotic associated diarrhoea is less clear. Experimental studies indicate an effect of lactic bacteria on human cell cancer lines, but clinical evidence is lacking. A 'stabilising' effect of lactic acid bacteria on the colonic flora has not been documented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Diarrhea / therapy
  • Digestive System / microbiology*
  • Fermentation
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Lactobacillaceae / physiology*
  • Lactose / metabolism
  • Lactose Intolerance / therapy
  • Probiotics
  • Streptococcaceae / physiology*


  • Lactose