It may seem counterintuitive, but supplements of hydrochloric acid, or HCl, can help some people to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Popular wisdom and the big pharmaceutical companies maintain that this common health problem is a result of an overproduction of stomach acid, which is itself HCl. However, for many people, the problem is not too much stomach acid but too little.
One of the most commonly reported gastrointestinal disorders is GERD, which in its simplest terms refers to the burning sensation caused when the muscle at the lower end of the esophagus fails to close completely. This allows stomach contents, including digestive acids, to leak back or reflux into the esophagus, irritating its sensitive lining and causing what some people describe as heartburn. When this condition persists, it is diagnosed as GERD.
Operating on the theory that GERD's root cause is excessive production of digestive acids, the most widely prescribed conventional treatment for acid reflux is medication to reduce stomach acid output. Most of these drugs fall into the categories of H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors -- PPIs. H2 blockers include such drugs as cimetidine, famotidine, nizatidine and ranitidine, while PPIs include medications known generically as omeprazole, omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate, lansoprazole and pantoprazole. Several reduced-strength formulations of these drugs are available over the counter.
Dr. Jonathan Wright, medical director of the Tahoma Clinic in Renton, Washington, and author of "Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You," says a large percentage of acid reflux is caused by what he describes as "digestive failure." Noting that acid reflux is diagnosed most widely among older people, Wright argues that it is within this age group that the inability to digest properly, largely because of low stomach acid production, is most widespread. An effective remedy for digestive failure, says Wright, is supplementation with HCl. He said that such supplements -- with or without pepsin -- were widely prescribed and effective in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
Effects of Digestive Failure
Jonny Bowden, author of "Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth," says that impaired digestion can lead to a buildup of stomach acid in the stomach that in turn eventually erupts into an episode of acid reflux. Adequate levels of HCl are needed to trigger the enzymes that help digest protein. If HCl production is low, these proteins are not properly digested, leading to a buildup of partially digested food and digestive acids in the stomach. When these stomach contents grow to excessive levels, they reflux into the esophagus, causing GERD.
Herbalist Robert Rister, author of "Healing Without Medication," recommends taking supplements of betaine HCl, an ammonia compound found naturally in sugar beets. The typical HCl dose per capsule is 600 to 650mg. Rister recommends taking the supplement after meals. Take no more than five capsules per meal. A warm sensation in the stomach is a signal that you're taking too much of the supplement. If this occurs after taking four capsules, cut back to three capsules after every meal. However, consult a medical professional before using HCl or any other dietary supplement.
- Medline Plus: GERD
- "Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You"; Jonathan Wright; 2001
- "Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth"; Jonny Bowden; 2008
- "Healing Without Medication"; Robert Rister; 2003