The present report describes the presentations delivered at the 7th International Yakult Symposium, ‘The Intestinal Microbiota and Probiotics: Exploiting Their Influence on Health’, in London on 22–23 April 2013. The following two themes associated with health risks were covered: (1) the impact of age and diet on the gut microbiota and (2) the gut microbiota's interaction with the host. The strong influence of the maternal gut microbiota on neonatal colonisation was reported, as well as rapid changes in the gut microbiome of older people who move from community living to residential care. The effects of dietary changes on gut metabolism were described and the potential influence of inter-individual microbiota differences was noted, in particular the presence/absence of keystone species involved in butyrate metabolism. Several speakers highlighted the association between certain metabolic disorders and imbalanced or less diverse microbiota. Data from metagenomic analyses and novel techniques (including an ex vivo human mucosa model) provided new insights into the microbiota's influence on coeliac, obesity-related and inflammatory diseases, as well as the potential of probiotics. Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii were suggested as targets for intervention. Host–microbiota interactions were explored in the context of gut barrier function, pathogenic bacteria recognition, and the ability of the immune system to induce either tolerogenic or inflammatory responses. There was speculation that the gut microbiota should be considered a separate organ, and whether analysis of an individual's microbiota could be useful in identifying their disease risk and/or therapy; however, more research is needed into specific diseases, different population groups and microbial interventions including probiotics.