A probiotic is a "live microbial food ingredients that, when ingested in sufficient quantities, exerts health benefits on the consumer". Probiotics exert their benefits through several mechanisms; they prevent colonization, cellular adhesion and invasion by pathogenic organisms, they have direct antimicrobial activity and they modulate the host immune response. The strongest evidence for the clinical effectiveness of probiotics has been in their use for the prevention of symptoms of lactose intolerance, treatment of acute diarrhea, attenuation of antibiotic-associated gastrointestinal side effects and the prevention and treatment of allergy manifestations. More research needs to be carried out to clarify conflicting findings on the use of probiotics for prevention of travelers' diarrhea, infections in children in daycare and dental caries, and elimination of nasal colonization with potentially pathogenic bacteria. Promising ongoing research is being conducted on the use of probiotics for the treatment of Clostridium difficile colitis, treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection, treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and prevention of relapse, treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, treatment of intestinal inflammation in cystic fibrosis patients, and prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants. Finally, areas of future research include the use of probiotics for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, prevention of cancer and the treatment of graft-versus-host disease in bone marrow transplant recipients.