Undigested carbohydrates reaching the colon can act as competitors for epithelial bacterial receptors, making it difficult for noncommensal bacteria to adhere to them. On the contrary, fermentation of these carbohydrates by anaerobic flora produces - among other substrates - butyrate that is involved in numerous important metabolic processes. These include the provision of energy to the colonocytes, the enhancement of sodium and water absorption and the synthesis of mucus and cell membranes. In addition, butyrate inhibits the nuclear translocation of the transcription factor NFκB, which exerts a potent anti-inflammatory activity. Clinical experience with probiotics in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is controversial. Whereas some probiotic preparations appear to be useful in ulcerative colitis (UC) and pouchitis, most attempts to use probiotics for treating or preventing recurrence in Crohn's disease have failed. It should be pointed out that - unlike in the small bowel - the colon and ileal pouches are well-established microbiological ecosystems with increasing amounts of a wide variety of bacterial strains. These bacterial strains have a high degree of metabolic interaction with luminal nutrients and a greater probability of developing dysbiosis. With this in mind, the rationale for using pre- and probiotics appears to be stronger for colonic IBD (UC or Crohn's colitis) and pouchitis than for IBD mostly involving the small bowel. © 2006 The Author.