The intestine harbors an ecosystem composed of the intestinal mucosa and the commensal microbiota. The microbiota fosters development, aids digestion and protects host cells from pathogens - a function referred to as colonization resistance. Little is known about the molecular basis of colonization resistance and how it can be overcome by enteropathogenic bacteria. Recently, studies on inflammatory bowel diseases and on animal models for enteric infection have provided new insights into colonization resistance. Gut inflammation changes microbiota composition, disrupts colonization resistance and enhances pathogen growth. Thus, some pathogens can benefit from inflammatory defenses. This new paradigm will enable the study of host factors enhancing or inhibiting bacterial growth in health and disease.