Betaine hydrochloride, or betaine HCl, is a crystalline alcohol derived from beets. It can be used as a supplement to increase stomach acid. Mostly found in pill form at health food stores, there is little scientific evidence that betaine HCl helps in any way beyond treating hypochlorhydria. Still, many alternative health professionals believe betaine HCl provides other benefits to the body.
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Hypochlorhydria is the low production of stomach acid, or decreased secretion of HCl. This state of low acid can negatively impact the proper digestion of food, and may allow bacteria into the gut that would have normally been killed by the acid. Betaine hydrochloride has been successfully used in conventional medicine to treat hypochlorhydria.
May Prevent Maldigestion
Undigested food that remains in the digestive system may be linked to issues ranging from a lack of nutrient absorption to hormone disruption. Dr. Robert J. Hedaya, in his 2001 book "The Antidepressant Survival Guide: The Clinically Proven Program to Enhance the Benefits and Beat the Side Effects of Your Medication," recommends taking betaine HCl if you suffer from symptoms such as bloating after meals, frequent belching or constipation. He notes to take approximately 600 mg of betaine in the middle of the meal so as to not burn the lining of an empty stomach.
May Help with Ulcers
Another possible benefit of betaine HCl is that it may help to heal ulcers, though research has yet to back up this assertion, according to Dr. Steven Bratman in his book, "Collins Alternative Health Guide." He notes that many naturopathic physicians believe that betaine HCl is helpful for ulcers due to the theory that a lack of stomach acid causes an incomplete digestion of proteins and these proteins may cause negative responses including ulcers and heartburn. Although Bratman notes that betaine HCl is considered generally safe, he stresses that scientific evidence to back up these claims is lacking.
If you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, do not take betaine HCl without a doctor's approval. The supplement could worsen your condition. Also, if you notice a burning sensation when you take betaine HCl during meals, it is an indication that you have enough HCl and you should not be supplementing with more. Work with a trained health care professional to determine what is causing your symptoms before you take betaine HCl or any other nutrient.