- Intestinal microbes regulate metabolic function and energy balance; an altered microbial ecology is believed to contribute to the development of several metabolic diseases. Relative species abundance and metabolic characteristics of the intestinal microbiota change substantially in those who are obese or have other metabolic disorders and in response to ingested nutrients or therapeutic agents. The mechanisms through which the intestinal microbiota and its metabolites affect host homeostasis are just beginning to be understood. We review the relationships between the intestinal microbiota and host metabolism, including energy intake, use, and expenditure, in relation to glucose and lipid metabolism. These associations, along with interactions among the intestinal microbiota, mucus layer, bile acids, and mucosal immune responses, reveal potential mechanisms by which the microbiota affect metabolism. We discuss how controlled studies involving direct perturbations of microbial communities in human and animal models are required to identify effective therapeutic targets in the microbiota.