Probiotics: determinants of survival and growth in the gut

Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2 Suppl):399S-405S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/73.2.399s.


Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are purportedly beneficial to human health and are called probiotics. Their survival during passage through the human gut, when administered in fermented milk products, has been investigated intensely in recent years. Well-controlled, small-scale studies on diarrhea in both adults and infants have shown that probiotics are beneficial and that they survive in sufficient numbers to affect gut microbial metabolism. Survival rates have been estimated at 20-40% for selected strains, the main obstacles to survival being gastric acidity and the action of bile salts. Although it is believed that the maximum probiotic effect can be achieved if the organisms adhere to intestinal mucosal cells, there is no evidence that exogenously administered probiotics do adhere to the mucosal cells. Instead, they seem to pass into the feces without having adhered or multiplied. Thus, to obtain a continuous exogenous probiotic effect, the probiotic culture must be ingested continually. Certain exogenously administered substances enhance the action of both exogenous and endogenous probiotics. Human milk contains many substances that stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria in vitro and also in the small intestine of infants; however, it is unlikely that they function in the colon. However, lactulose and certain fructose-containing compounds, called prebiotics, are not digested in the small intestine but pass into the cecum unchanged, where they are selectively utilized by probiotics. Beneficial effects may thus accrue from exogenously administered probiotics, often administered with prebiotics, or by endogenous bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, whose metabolic activity and growth may also be enhanced by the administration of prebiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development*
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Diarrhea / therapy*
  • Digestive System / microbiology*
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Infant
  • Inulin / chemistry
  • Inulin / metabolism
  • Lactobacillus / growth & development*
  • Lactulose / chemistry
  • Lactulose / metabolism
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Probiotics / metabolism*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Survival


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Oligosaccharides
  • fructooligosaccharide
  • Lactulose
  • Inulin