Probiotics: what are they? What are their effects on gut physiology?

Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2003 Oct;17(5):711-24. doi: 10.1016/s1521-6918(03)00075-1.


Probiotics can be defined as microbial cells that have a beneficial effect on the health and well-being of the host. Since the gastrointestinal mucosa is the surface of contact with probiotics, it seems evident that the first effects of probiotics relate to digestive function. A brief review of the literature indicates that probiotics have very few effects on the main physiological functions of the gastrointestinal tract, which are digestion, absorption and propulsion. The main action of probiotics can be summarised as a reinforcement of the intestinal mucosal barrier against deleterious agents. Experimental data indicate that some probiotics reduce pathological alterations in paracellular permeability to large molecules or bacteria, stimulate mucosal immunity, display a trophic action on the mucosa, reduce mucus degradation and interact with mediators of inflammation. Yoghurt may help lactose digestion, and some data needing confirmation indicate a stimulation of water absorption and an acceleration of intestinal transit by some bacteria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestion
  • Gastrointestinal Transit
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestines / immunology
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Intestines / physiology*
  • Permeability
  • Probiotics / pharmacology*