This report summarises talks given at the 8th International Yakult Symposium, held on 23–24 April 2015 in Berlin. Two presentations explored different aspects of probiotic intervention: the small intestine as a probiotic target and inclusion of probiotics into integrative approaches to gastroenterology. Probiotic recommendations in gastroenterology guidelines and current data on probiotic efficacy in paediatric patients were reviewed. Updates were given on probiotic and gut microbiota research in obesity and obesity-related diseases, the gut–brain axis and development of psychobiotics, and the protective effects of equol-producing strains for prostate cancer. Recent studies were presented on probiotic benefit for antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and people with HIV, as well as protection against the adverse effects of a short-term high-fat diet. Aspects of probiotic mechanisms of activity were discussed, including immunomodulatory mechanisms and metabolite effects, the anti-inflammatory properties of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, the relationship between periodontitis, microbial production of butyrate in the oral cavity and ageing, and the pathogenic mechanisms of Campylobacter. Finally, an insight was given on a recent expert meeting, which re-examined the probiotic definition, advised on the appropriate use and scope of the term and outlined different probiotic categories and the prevalence of different mechanisms of activity.