Although claims for health and nutritional benefits have been made for lactic acid bacteria in fermented dairy products for nearly a century, the nutritional and therapeutic value of these organisms is still controversial. This article will review the scientific basis of these claims. There are numerous studies showing fermentation of food with lactobacilli increase the quantity, availability, digestibility, and assimilability of nutrients. The basis for this conclusion comes from direct measurements of vitamin synthesis and from increased feed efficiency when fermented products are fed to animals. There have been a number of studies showing that various fermented dairy products lower serum cholesterol levels in humans and animals. These studies are reviewed and the validity of these findings are assessed. A summary of the evidence indicating that lactase deficient individuals can eat yogurt and the mechanisms involved in this toleration is reviewed. The role of fermented dairy products in inhibiting tumor growth and chemically induced tumors in animals is discussed and the possible mechanisms involved in this protective effect are reviewed. Fermented dairy products and lypholized lactobacilli preparations have been shown to be useful in treating and preventing various intestinal infections including; salmonellosis, shigellosis and antibiotic induced diarrhea. In this context a specific lactobacillus designated GG has been shown to be useful in treating recurring diarrhea caused by a toxin produced by Clostridium difficile.