A healthy gut microbiota plays many crucial functions in the host, being involved in the correct development and functioning of the immune system, assisting in the digestion of certain foods and in the production of health-beneficial bioactive metabolites or ‘pharmabiotics’. These include bioactive lipids (including SCFA and conjugated linoleic acid) antimicrobials and exopolysaccharides in addition to nutrients, including vitamins B and K. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiota and reductions in microbial diversity are highlighted in many disease states, possibly rendering the host susceptible to infection and consequently negatively affecting innate immune function. Evidence is also emerging of microbially produced molecules with neuroactive functions that can have influences across the brain–gut axis. For example, γ-aminobutyric acid, serotonin, catecholamines and acetylcholine may modulate neural signalling within the enteric nervous system, when released in the intestinal lumen and consequently signal brain function and behaviour. Dietary supplementation with probiotics and prebiotics are the most widely used dietary adjuncts to modulate the gut microbiota. Furthermore, evidence is emerging of the interactions between administered microbes and dietary substrates, leading to the production of pharmabiotics, which may directly or indirectly positively influence human health.