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What is Betaine Hydrochloride?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Betaine hydrochloride is a substance that simulates the action of hydrochloric acid (HCl), an acid that is naturally produced in the stomach. This is the reason why betaine hydrochloride is also called betaine HCl. This substance is synthesized in laboratories. As a hydrochloric acid-containing supplement, its promise lies in its proposed ability to enhance digestion.

In the digestive process, the stomach secretes gastric acid in response to food or hunger. The main component of gastric or stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, which lends an acidic potenz hydrogen (pH) to the stomach. Hydrochloric acid is produced by the parietal cells of the stomach. With its presence, the pH of the stomach reaches as low as 1 or 2.

The low pH serves three important functions. First, it prevents or stops the growth of microorganisms that might be present in food. Second, it allows the breakdown or denaturation of proteins. Third, it provides an activating environment for the precursor enzyme called pepsinogen.

After activation, pepsinogen becomes pepsin, a powerful enzyme that facilitates protein digestion. With betaine HCl intake, the functions of natural HCl are also served. Therefore, betaine hydrochloride intake can help maintain normal stomach function, particularly in people who produce hydrochloric acid in insufficient amounts.

There are two main conditions in which hydrochloric acid production is insufficient: hypochlorhydria, which is little production of hydrochloric acid; and achlorhydria, which is no production of hydrochloric acid. These conditions might occur because of autoimmune destruction of parietal cells, pernicious anemia, stomach cancer, antacid use, antibiotic use or radiation therapy. Healthcare professionals prescribe betaine hydrochloride as treatment for these conditions because of the concern for ineffective protein digestion and uncontrolled growth of microorganisms that are the result of a lack of hydrochloric acid.

Several chronic disorders, such as asthma, gallstones and allergies, also appear to be related to insufficient production of gastric acid. Thus, betaine hydrochloride supplementation could be an effective treatment for these diseases. Other disorders that could benefit from this supplement are atherosclerosis, diarrhea and liver and thyroid dysfunction.

Long-term effects of betaine HCl use might be possible, so it is better for pregnant or lactating women to delay intake of this supplement. Furthermore, people who suffer from heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux or ulcers are not advised to take this supplement, because it can aggravate their condition. The main mechanism behind these disorders is the overproduction of hydrochloric acid, which can be further increased by indiscriminate intake of betaine hydrochloride.

As a supplement, this substance can be found in the form of capsules or tablets. The content of a capsule or tablet can vary from 325-650 milligrams. The dosage depends on a person’s needs. It is advised that this supplement be taken together with a meal containing protein, because hydrochloric acid works best on proteins. Furthermore, it is best for one to conscientiously follow directions about its intake, as provided by the label, the pharmacist or the doctor, in order to avoid overdosing or underdosing.

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