Betaine is a nutrient found in foods such as grains, shellfish and broccoli. It works closely with folic acid and vitamin B-12 to help your body perform various functions. Betaine hydrochloride, or HCL, is an acidic form of betaine that contains hydrochloric acid -- commonly known as stomach acid. Both nutrients have beneficial uses, but it is important to consult your doctor before taking betaine or betaine HCL
Betaine is a methyl donor -- a substance that transfers its methyl molecules so that your body can carry out certain biochemical processes. Methyl molecule donation is needed for your liver and cells to function properly, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Betaine also helps your body produce carnitine, a nutrient that helps your body turn fat into energy.
Betaine works with vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid to help regulate homocysteine levels. Elevated levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Betaine is also used to lower homocysteine if you have homocystinuria, which is a genetic condition that allows homocysteine levels to accumulate in your body. You are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease as early as your 20s if you have homocystinuria, says the UMMC.
Betaine HCL helps with digestion. Your doctor may prescribe betaine HCL as a source of hydrochloric acid if you have stomach acid deficiency. According to the Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, gastric acid helps digest food and protect your gastrointestinal tract from bacteria. Betaine HCL is also used for conditions that cause decreased hydrochloric acid, including gallstones. Betaine HCL supplements are synthetic, where as betaine supplements are available in naturally derived and synthetic forms.
Though betaine is a beneficial nutrient, all supplements have the capacity to cause side effects and interact with your medication. Consult your doctor before taking betaine. Betaine side effects are generally mild and include diarrhea, stomach upset and nausea, according to the UMMC. You should not take betaine if you have kidney disease, because it can increase your total cholesterol when taken with folic acid and vitamin B-6. Only take betaine under your doctor's supervision if you are currently prescribed medication.