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Although precise mechanisms responsible for all demonstrations of probiotic health benefits are not known, many lines of evidence suggest that probiotics function through direct or indirect impact on colonizing microbiota of the gut. Probiotics can directly influence colonizing microbes through multiple mechanisms, including the production of inhibitory compounds (bacteriocins, short chain fatty acids, and others), by producing substrates that might promote the growth of colonizing microbes (secreted exopolysaccharides, vitamins, fatty acids, sugars from undigested carbohydrates and others), and by promoting immune responses against specific microbes. Indirectly, probiotics can influence colonizing microbes by inhibiting attachment through stimulated mucin production, reinforcing gut barrier effects, and downregulation of gut inflammation, thereby promoting microbes that are associated with a healthier gut physiology. Although the value of targeted changes in populations of gut bacteria is a matter of debate, increased levels of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus in the gut correlate with numerous health endpoints. Microbiota changes due to probiotic intake include increased numbers of related phylotypes, decreasing pathogens and their toxins, altering bacterial community structure to enhance evenness, stabilizing bacterial communities when perturbed (eg, with antibiotics), or promoting a more rapid recovery from a perturbation. Further research will provide insight into the degree of permanence of probiotic-induced changes, although research to date suggests that continued probiotic consumption is needed for sustained impact.