Betaine HCL for Increasing Stomach Acid

How to Increase Stomach Acid Naturally with Betaine HCL

Stomach acid has gotten a bad rap in recent decades as the growing antacid industry marketed products to reduce acid and provide relief.

Estimates suggest that half to 3/4 of Americans struggle with having too little stomach acid and continually taking things to reduce stomach acid can make the problem worse.

Low Stomach Acid Problems

Stomach acid is important for digestion and nutrient assimilation. Having too little stomach acid can cause just as many problems (if not more) than having too much:

  • Symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, undigested food in stool, acid reflux, gas, bloating, indigestion, belching, skin problems or acne, and chronic nutrient deficiencies can be related to Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).
  • In more extreme cases, symptoms like hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin, adrenal fatigue and even autoimmune disease can occur. (1) Of course, these symptoms can stem from other problems as well, but often they can point to low stomach acid.

Risk factors for low stomach acid include: stress, consumption of processed foods, candida, aging, antibiotic or prescription drug use, drinking ice water with meals and mineral deficiencies.(2)

Why we need stomach acid

Stomach acid (HCL) is a necessary part of the digestive system:

  • Stomach acid is a vital part of our digestive and immune systems. It helps break down food, but also maintains the acidic environment in the digestive system that kills bacteria, parasites and pathogens that we may ingest with food.
  • HCL is also important for stimulating the pancreas and intestines to produce bile and enzymes needed to break down foods.
  • Low HCL makes it difficult to break down foods, especially protein, into vital amino acids (which the body needs for hormone support, neurotransmitters and healthy skin, hair and nails).
  • Nutrient deficiencies and undigested food in the body can also raise cortisol levels and deplete the adrenals since they don’t have the needed nutrients to function properly.
  • Over time, this can create an imbalance in the gut that can make problems like Candida and SIBO worse since pathogenic bacteria that would normally be killed by stomach acid are able to thrive in the gut.
  • Leaky Gut and autoimmune disease– There is some evidence that the undigested food in the gut can lead to leaky gut syndrome. At this point, small particles of proteins from undigested foods can enter the bloodstream, which may create autoimmune diseases.

Can Low Stomach Acid Lead to Heartburn & Indigestion?

Stomach acid signals something called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (which separates the stomach and esophagus) to close tightly when the body has enough acid to digest the food that was consumed. When there is not adequate stomach acid to digest a food, the Lower Esophageal Sphincter will not receive this signal and will not close tightly, letting acid and undigested food creep up into the esophagus leading to heartburn and indigestion.

Additionally, if food is not properly digested, signaling to the small intestine will also be delayed. Food can sit in the stomach longer, leaving more time for acid to reach the esophagus.

How Betaine HCL (with Pepsin) Can Help

In a perfect world, our bodies would naturally create enough (and just enough) HCL to digest our food properly. In reality as many of us encounter risk factors like excess stress, less than optimal diet, and other underlying health issues daily, our bodies may not always produce HCL properly.

In these cases, supplemental HCL can be beneficial when used correctly:

  • HCL can be a life-changing supplement for some people, but it should be used with caution and under the supervision of a medical practitioner.
  • Those on paid medications,corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories or other medication should not use HCL.
  • Those with ulcers should not use HCL.
  • HCL should only be taken with meals containing proteins as not as much stomach acid is needed for digesting vegetables and fruits.
  • It is important to figure out the correct dose of HCL needed as too much or too little can be problematic.

My Experience with HCL

I had many of the risk factors for low stomach acid and wondered if this could be part of the reason for my remaining nutrient deficiencies.

Under the guidance of a functional medicine practitioner, I started supplementing with HCL with Pepsin and noticed an almost immediate improvement in energy levels and digestion.

I slowly worked up the dose to find my optimal dose and now use HCL as needed to support my digestion. I’ve also found that my body seems to be producing HCL more easily now after several months of using supplements and I’m slowly able to wean down my dose.

Tests for Low HCL

There are lab tests that measure stomach acid levels but SCD Lifestyle has instructions for some simple tests that can be done at home, including the baking soda test:

  1. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4-6 ounces of cold water first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything.
  2. Drink the baking soda solution.
  3. Time how long it takes you to belch. Time up to five minutes.

If you have not belched within five minutes stop timing.

In theory, if your stomach is producing adequate amounts of stomach acid you’ll likely belch within two to three minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid (but don’t confuse these burps with small little burps from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Any belching after 3 minutes indicates a low acid level.

Apple cider vinegar is another way to help determine if a person has low stomach acid. ACV is often recommended as a natural remedy for indigestion, heartburn or other temporary digestive problems. Since it is a natural source of acid, it contributes to the acidic environment in the stomach. It isn’t a perfect test, but if taking 1 tsp of ACV in water helps alleviate heartburn, it may be a sign of inadequate HCL production.

The Betaine HCL Challenge Test

The at-home test that was recommended by my functional medicine practitioner involved using Betaine HCL capsules with Pepsin to test my body’s response:

  1. In the middle of a meal containing at least 20 grams of protein, I took one Betaine HCL capsule.
  2. I carefully monitored my body’s response for the next hour to see if it affected me.
  3. A burning sensation in the stomach can indicate adequate HCL levels. No reaction can indicate low HCL.

This is one of the few tests where a reaction is actually a good thing. I didn’t notice a difference from taking the capsule, which meant I had low stomach acid. A person with adequate stomach acid would notice a burning or heavy feeling in the stomach after taking unnecessary HCL.

From here, I took one additional capsule with each protein containing meal until I felt a slight burning sensation and then backed down to just under that dose for my maintenance dose.

My digestion has been dramatically better since implementing this, and a recent stool test revealed no unwanted visitors or infections in my digestive system (TMI?).

I highly recommend this article about how to supplement with Betaine HCL correctly.

Other Ways to Boost HCL Production Naturally

Supplementing with Betaine HCL with Pepsin should only be done under the care of a qualified practitioner, but there are other natural ways to help increase stomach acid production:

  • Do not eat when stressed or upset, as stress can lower HCL levels
  • Consume a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in water about 30 minutes before meals.
  • Consume high quality proteins and vegetables and avoid processed foods, added sugars and additives.
  • Use a high quality salt to taste.
  • Chew foods thoroughly to make them easier to digest.
  • Don’t drink with meals.
  • Add 1/4 cup of homemade or unpasteurized sauerkraut to each meal
  • Drink ginger tea or chew a small piece of ginger between meals to stimulate stomach acid production
  • Do not eat within a few hours of bedtime to allow adequate time for digestion

Having low stomach acid can affect the body in many ways. If you think you may suffer from this, find a qualified practitioner to work with to correct this problem as soon as possible.

Have you ever taken Betaine HCL? Ever struggle with low stomach acid? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. I have Hypothyroidism; low stomach acid is just one of the myriad of symptoms experienced by those suffering this disorder.

    Hydrochloric acid or HCL is made by the parietal cells (part of the stomach physiology,) alongside HCL something called Intrinsic Factor (IF), is also manufactured. Where you find HCL you also find IF. IF is essential for the absorption of Vitamin B12. So if there is low HCL there is low IF and therefore, the body fails to absorb B12; B12 deficiency is another common symptom of Hypothyroidism.

    Vitamin B12 deficiency is known as Pernicious Anaemia, a very serious disorder. Oral supplements of B12 will not be properly absorbed therefore, sublingual supplements or better still intramuscular injections are recommended.

    Commonly those with low levels of HCL will be diagnosed as having too much HCL and given or take ‘antacids’. Taking additional HCL will enable the body to absorb more nutrients from a healthy diet and ensure the levels of Vitamin B12 are not deficient.

  2. Wow… Thank you sooooo much for posting this. I am 22 and I have always drank with my meals, since no one told me otherwise. I also eat all night because I have raging hunger then. Recently my adult acne has gotten worse and I figured it was just stress related since any little amount sends me over the deep end. A while back, my cortisol was through the roof and I was having PMDD symptoms full swing. After supplementing with adrenal support vitamins, my energy level increased and I was able to go to bed and wake up on time. I guess my adrenals were shot, and I’m pretty sure this is why. Wellness mama, you’re the best!

  3. Interesting. Though the test sounds painful, just the idea of waiting for a burp. Anything that would make me burp just makes me sick, I get that pressure build up but just can’t release it. Makes my chest hurt. Wonder if that’s a problem all of it’s own.

  4. I have taken betain with pepsin before. It seemed to cause acid reflux, but I never felt any warmth in my belly. I was not too serious about it but should try it again.

    I also wondered if you know of any women who are over 40 who have successfully managed to lose weight after changing their diets, etc. I’m feeling rather discouraged :/

    Totally love your site btw 🙂

    • I’m in my 50’s and lost weight doing an allergy elimination diet. I didn’t restrict eating, just changed my choices and I lost 10 pounds without trying. It’s hard to follow through as it takes time, but is worth it in the long run because you find out what’s ticking off your body.
      A colleague of mine follows Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat to Live”. She lost 35 pounds switching to a vegan 50% raw diet.

    • Michele, I am 72 and have been over weight all of my life. Plus had knee pain. My Chiropractor, who is a health advocate, suggested that I try eating Gluten free for a while and see how I felt, telling me the undigested gluten can cause inflammation. So I thought, what the heck may as well give it a try. She gave some really good recipes, which is how I found this web-site, I had tried so many diets, with no avail, and had totally given up on loosing weight, but after eating gluten free, my weight has slowly come off. I started in August, and now I am 30 lbs lower that I was. My energy level has never been better, the pain in my knees is about 90% better (still have a small amount of discomfort going up or down the stairs) I wish I had known about this many years ago. I don’t count calories, but have given up all processed foods, and vegetable oils except Olive Oil. I also use Coconut Oil and Raw Butter. It has helped me so much! You may want to consider giving it a try.

    • Read about resistant starch and weight loss at freetheanimal.com they have had great success with losing weight while increasing resistant starch to feed your gut bacteria. Extremely interesting and worth the read.

  5. I have hypothyroid and Hashis and I am on Betaine HCL. I initially felt so sick to my stomach taking it. My chiropractor/ nutritionist NEVER told me to take with protein only to make sure to take with food. Since I read your post I am happy to say I can ” stomach” ( pun intended) it now that I always take after eating protein. Thanks Katie!!!

  6. Very interesting article. I’m glad I read it & will use the natural remedies rather than taking the supplements. I was surprised I already did the acv in water without knowing it was good for stomach acid.

  7. I know people do not realize that they need more stomach acid, they think it is the opposite when they have heartburn. Thanks for the information. I will be sharing this very informative.

    • I think that it is more related to sphincter function, intestinal motility and constipation with gas production.

      It is the gas that usually pushes the stomach acid up through the esophagus. It does not matter if it is too much acid or too little, most adult people produce enough stomach acid to cause a heartburn but that doesnt mean they produce enough to digest food properly.

      Here is some data http://www.psoriasisdietplan.com/2014/05/gerdacid-refluxheartburn-low-stomach-acid-or-too-much-stomach-acid/ on stomach acid and Betaine HCL supplementation.

  8. I’m confused with the test. It states early burping indicates low stomach acid. Stop testing after 5 minutes. Any burping after 5 minutes indicates low stomach acid. Am I looking for early or late burping…or maybe it’s any burping?

    • If you burp within the first 3 minutes of the test, your stomach acid is not low. If you burp after the first 3 minutes, your stomach acid is low. If you haven’t burped within 5 minutes, stop counting, since it’s pretty clear your stomach acid is low.

      • I keep rereading this and I see if I burp I’m low if I dont burp I’m low…I’m missing something.

        • I just got it. The 1st 3 minutes if I burp its good. Anything other than that I’m low. I never burped so I guess I’m low.

  9. I’ve been using Premiere Lab’s HCL activator and HCL for the last 6 weeks while on a very strict AIP diet. My energy level went up once I used the activator during a high protein meal and the HCL right after. This is a wonderful benefit for me, because this lifestyle can be exhausting at times. I ordered on Amazon after my supply from my practitioner was gone. Not pricey and I believe that the activator really helps!!

    • Thanks for mentioning your experience with the Activator! I have been taking Premier Research Lab’s HCl for years, and I depend on it. I have never tried it with HCL Activator, and I’d like to try it now.

      For those who do experience the slight burning, drink lots of water!

  10. I was prescribed Betaine HCl many years ago by my naturopath, which I have taken intermittently. My concern is that it is from a porcine source (pigs). I’m concerned about the quality of the source and the treatment of the animals. Katie, do you know anything about the quality and treatment of the animas in the brand that you linked to? I looked up a few brands but none claimed to be from pastured, humanely treated animals. Thanks.

    • Premier Reasearch Lab’s HCL activator and HCL are animal free!!

  11. Hi,

    It is amazing how a seemingly minor alteration in our body’s chemistry can potentially result in major and sometimes life-threatening problems. The autoimmune problems mentioned as a result of leaky gut can be quite debilitating if not corrected at an early onset. Problems include severe allergies, post nasal drip, fluid in ears and excess yeast, bacteria, viruses in the body which can be downright miserable in themselves. In addition, the person often develop a persistent body odor that can be difficult to extinguish without proper oral supplementations (HCL for starters), emotional balancing and other remedies including detoxifying baths. It is great that you noticed an issue early on and prevented all the repercussions of low HCL.

    Lynese

  12. I have IBS no dairy or gluten no fruits or vegetables nothing spicy. I eat rice and chickens or potatoes and meat. I also have very bad acid reflux witch I treat with Nexicium. . Diaharea spelling not right is one of my really bad symptoms. These symptoms are very difficult to live with, also pain is really bad so bad it affects all parts of my life. I am afraid of going out because I never know when my symptoms will act up. Most times I spend a lot of time on the toilet sometimes hours in pain 2 3 5 hours. I am currently taking pain pills musical relaxers I have Graves disease and take synthroud spelling I also have a spastic colon. I just started taking probiotics vit D mirapex for restless leg and valium 5 mg and vesacare for urinary leakages

  13. Okay so what if there aren’t any holistic practioners in any medical field in my state? The closest ones I know of for me are in Canada( live in Mt). Is a practitioner absolutely necessary to take betaine? I want to try supplementation with this and all the other supplements recommended on the GAPS diet because I want to cure my acne and severe hay/pollen/dust allergies (I have never tested for allergies because we cannot afford medical visits unless necessary and like I said, there are no doctors I approve of in my area or anywhere close so I am not exactly sure what substance my allergies are from- I only know that they are really bad in all seasons but winter) without completing the GAPS diet because my family has a middle- low income and my current health changes are expensive enough. I currently eat no white foods( not sensitive to dairy just hard to find good dairy here), am going to start FCLO and omega 3s- the one you recommended, eat your recommended diet, and am doing everything I can for my gut. This includes high quality probiotics, bone broth, ghee, grassfed as I can afford(MT animals are grassfed and then moved to local hay and green fodder for their finishing- I plan on buying half of a fully grassfed beef cow very soon), and use no prescription or chemical drugs. Yet my gut is attacking my face and I get week long bouts of sinus pressure that get so bad I have trouble standing up and my mental clarity becomes really poor. Oh! I do no fish(sadly) because there isn’t a good way to get fish here, lots of elk, and some pork. Plan on getting more elk and trying some game birds. So do I assume that I have a gut problem? I could have hereditary sinus problems from father if that’s at all possible? Sorry that this comment is like a book…

  14. Hi to everyone,great article.
    i have question about betaine hcl,i have gerd(heartburn) and helicobacter pylori ,can i take betaine hcl or not?
    I dont know PH of my gut.
    thnx in advance

    • Helicobacter pylori causes low stomach acid!
      A symptom of Helicobacter pylori infection is that it neutralizes and decreases secretion of gastric acid to aid its survival in the stomach.[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achlorhydria
      There are several natural remedies for getting rid of helicobacter pylori worth looking into as Drs generally prescribe very strong antibiotics to get rid of it.

  15. I was wondering if you can take the Betaine with Pepsin capsules and put them into water and drink them instead of taking the pills? I have a problem swallowing and sometime choke on pills, especially larger ones. With Betaine pills with Pepsin you are suppose to increase the dosage until your stomach rumbles I guess, so taking 3 to 7 pills would really be a hassle. Does anyone know if you can open the capsules and place them in water and drink them without the Pepsin burning your throat?

    • I haven’t tried that but I would have concern with the HCL touching teeth and the mouth.

  16. I am so happy I found this info. I just love your blog. So informative. This just may have been my lifesaver. I’ve been going thru multiple things and am determined to get to bottom of it. I have removed wheat from diet and after some withdraw symptoms of about a week long I niw feel better. I still have excessive bloating right after a meal so have some betaine hcl with pepin ordered. I am working with a nature path that I just found. We are communicating long distance right now until I see her next month.
    2 years ago I had a surgery that removed my lower distal stomach as well as my pylorus. This surgery I had removed the main area in stomach that produced acid. No dr. Or dietician recommended any enzymes. I

  17. Please be careful with this.I was doing well with it,then I read it should be taken with 15 grams of protein.I took it with breakfast…15 grams of protein from Greek yogurt,plus two waffles, a few almonds and kiwi fruit.Within a couple of hours I had severe diarrhea.When I took it with meat protein…and more than 15 grams,I had no problem.I just saw a site which advises to take with 15 to 20 grams protein and in parentheses says 4 to 6 ounces of meat….which is 28 to 42 grams. I think 15 grams is too little….and I wonder if pepsin is needed to digest dairy?

  18. I have been taking Betaine HCL for years and don’t know what I would do without it. During a particularly stressful time it seemed that I was suddenly unable to digest my food. I had a very heavy feeling after eating even the smallest meals (like I overdid the turkey dinner). I started getting a lot of heartburn and my esophagus became very raw, I belched a lot after eating and this was much worse if I drank something with my meal, and nothing seemed to move on down the digestive tract.

    After having a gastroscopy, endoscopy and CT scan my GI specialist put me on acid reducing pills (Rabeprazole and Ranitidine) with no improvement. Several weeks into this problem I started into a flare with my ulcerative colitis as even my enteric coated pills were not being properly digested. This lead to my being prescribed Imuran – a drug I was not willing to consider.

    I decided I had to explore other alternatives and went to see a naturopath who without any tests but my subjective experienced was able to get to the heart of the problem, low stomach acid. She assured me that supplementing my stomach acid would not made my raw esophagus worse but would help resolve the problems I was having. She started off on a few pills increasing until I reached the right dose and my problems improved overnight, my esophagus pain resolved very quickly, my bowels started moving properly and my ulcerative colitis came under control.

    Several years passed and then I started into other problems (muscle and joint pain with decreased energy) which were caused by several nutritional deficiencies (B, D, C, Iron and Zinc) despite having a great wholesome diet. Those seem to be under control now however I would love to know if they were the cause or the result of low stomach acid. And so the journey to continued health continues…

  19. How would a vegetarian use the betain HCL test?

    • There’s a vegan HCL by Quantum Nutrition Labs that’s made from beets, and the (separate) activator is made from turmeric, ginger, tomato, and non-gmo natto.

  20. Hi. I’m on week 2 of the autoimmune paleo diet and suddenly have heartburn! Why oh why would the aip diet bring this on? I’ve rarely had heartburn before and only during pregnancy, occasionally after eating bananas, and when I have an upper respiratory thing going on (relates to post nasal drip I believe). Stumbles onto this article in my research. I think I may need to add betaine HCl. I just don’t understand why this diet would have brought this up. Thank you for any insights you might have or other ways to help treat the heartburn until I can get some supplements.

    • I have heard of this happening in some people. One theory is that it is changing gut bacteria, and another that the change in diet affects stomach acid. Either way, I found Betaine HCL really helpful when on the autoimmune diet and at other times as well…

      • How do you know when to stop taking it? I don’t get any stomach discomfort, but sometimes I have to go to the bathroom immediately after eating, Would that be a sign that I don’t need it anymore or at least to start reducing the amount? Thanks!

  21. So I confess, I skipped the intro step and jumped up to 4 Betaine HCL pills while eating a meal with protein. It makes me burp a lot afterwards.. wonder if this means I need more or less?..

  22. Would this be safe during pregnancy? If not what would help the acid reflux? Thanks.

    • Check with your doc, but I found it really helpful during pregnancy since my stomach acid seems to decrease naturally with pregnancy hormones.

      • Thank you very much. My midwife advised against it but said I can try Apple cider vinegar (I’m sure just to be on the safe side…)

  23. Is there a good quality Betaine HCL/Pepsin product that is NOT sourced from pork? My husband has an intolerance… but I noticed the product you recommended says it is from a porcine source.

  24. I get what you’re saying but I think I’m missing something. I’ve had upper right quadrant pain for a year and a half, and found that TUMS and/or alkaline water seems to help calm the pain, but I don’t understand why. This was my goto remedy for over a year, and it seem to work, but now that I’m taking Betaine HCL (started a couple months ago) I need it less often. I’m just not clear on why these alkaline things seem to work when according to the logic of this article, they shouldn’t? Just placebo effect or …?

  25. Hi! I just started full gaps and hoping it will help resolve my digestive issues once and for all… I’m nursing my 9 month old and just stated supplementing with HCL, do you know if this is safe during breast feeding? Everything says ask your doctor ect but they do not know about natural health (mine at least!). Thanks!

    • It is still important to check with a doc, but I have personally taken it while breastfeeding.

  26. What are some good brands to try? I’m currently using one called “Robynzyme” by Dr. Fitt but it’s $78.00 per bottle (about a month’s supply) and I need something less expensive.

  27. Hi – my doctor gave me a digestive enzyme that contains 300 HCL (I can’t remember how HCL is measured). Interestingly, my stomach had no reaction but I got a burning bitter taste in my throat and mouth. Should I reduce the amount but continue with HCL, or avoid altogether? Thank you,