Betaine HCL for Increasing Stomach Acid

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How to Increase Stomach Acid Naturally with Betaine HCL
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Betaine HCL for Increasing Stomach Acid

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 (Gastrin level can be check by your doctor) 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.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Pfleghaar, D.O., FACEP, ABOIM. Dr Jennifer is a double board certified physician and is now working in Emergency Medicine and has an office in Ohio practicing Integrative Medicine. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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


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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


90 responses to “Betaine HCL for Increasing Stomach Acid”

  1. Muhammad Avatar

    Hi, May i know, it is okay to mix the betaine hcl in my Fruit juice?

  2. Dena Avatar

    I started drinking baking soda a few times a day for about a week..out of nowhere I had continuous trying to belch but only Continuous simultaneously small burp..for hours!! Could this mean that I took too much stomach acid out by drinking all that baking soda?? Will hydrochloric acid tabs help?

  3. Gail Hunt Avatar
    Gail Hunt

    Dear Wellness Mama, you said not to supplement with HCL if taking paid medications. Can you further explain please? Thank you, Gail

  4. Jess Avatar

    I was wondering if I did the baking soda test and never belched but then ended up with my usual heart burn. Well I usually get it daily but not until later on and it came right after the test. Do you think that still can mean I have low acid?

    Also, I get back burn. It hurts between my shoulder blades. Is that the same has heart burn or indigestion. I have a lot of the other complaints like a skin rash, fatigue, canker sores, brittle nails, acne, diarrhea, constipation, really bad gas. My family hates it!

    1. Dielle Avatar

      I get back aches too! i have chronic gastritis and lots of these symptoms, anything helped?

  5. Corinne Avatar

    I am nursing a 18 months toddler. Is it ok to take Betaine HCL?
    I find very contradictory information about its use under nursing. I did take 1 pill with every meal for the past 2 days and did not notice anything on my toddler.
    Thank you so much for your answer! It really bothers me but I feel so poorly with low stomach acid ?

  6. Waqas Avatar

    i am big fan of yours blogs you slove my problems?Thank you so much katie
    Recently I have hypothyroid and Hashis and I am on Betaine HCL. I initially felt so sick to my stomach 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.

  7. Chloe Avatar

    My stomach acid was so low I would have to take hcl right after I finished the meal lol. My stomach would delay emptying that badly and I would always take it in the middle of the meal and it wouldn’t help. Switched to after the meal and worked like a charm. I also switched brands and the one I take now is so potent I don’t need a lot and it has helped tremendously. Slowly recovering back what I lost there is hope!

  8. Inge Avatar

    How would you know if you have taken enough of you have a constant stomach ache .
    I don’t feel a burn even after 10 pills but I have a constant bloated stomach and like a burning in my upper stomach a few hours after my meal (no heart burn)

  9. Milla Avatar

    What would you recommend if there’s no burning sensation or any other reaction in the stomach after taking 5-6 pills of betaine? Thanks!

  10. Lisa S Avatar

    I started on betaine hcl recently. It has totally helped my digestion, I am so happy. I am 53 and have been exp bloating for years and constipation was always a concern. Additionally candida seemed to be always lurking around the corner regardless of a clean, low sugar low stretch diet. Recently I noticed excessive burping. This symptom was new and not normal for me. so I began researching further. In my past research I didn’t see anything on low hydrochloric acid. Even a gastro Dr never mentioned anything about possibility of low stomach acid, but wanted to do other procedures. Anyway i stumbled upon it and it all made SENSE!! 1-2 betaine hcl capsule (650mg) did the trick for me. I took it for a week, it worked almost immediately, my digestion was great, no boating no constip. I didn’t take it one day and my digestion reverted back. I felt the warming feeling with 2 , so I backed off to 1. If I have a larger meal with more protein I will up it to 2. So far 1-2 has worked very well for me. I’m lighter, feel healthier and more normal!

  11. Doug Avatar

    One problem nobody mentions… one of the worst things for digestion is drinking liquid with meals, because it dilutes stomach secretions. Taking a few or several HCL capsules means you have to drink a bunch of liquid with the meal, thereby disabling the very process you are trying to support. I also wonder whether long term use of HCL and Pepsin down regulates endogenous production.

  12. Debra Avatar

    I have been taking betaine HCL for 6 months because I was told to for my gallbladder issue and low acid. It has been a tremendous help. I took anti-acids for years (before going natural) that did not do anything for acid reflux. Now, I see I had low acid instead. I take it even without a protein during a meal because I am vegan. I find I have issues quickly if I skip a day. I might try quinoa again to see if my body can now digest it.

    1. Patty Avatar

      I’m vegan too, and I’m pretty sure I have low stomach acid. Can you tell me how many mg you take during a meal? Thank you!

  13. Joshua Morgan Avatar
    Joshua Morgan

    Well, I think I may have to thank you. Can’t remember what brought me to this page, but I am glad. To the point: I did the baking soda test on two separate days and couldn’t burp either. So, I then tried the Betaine test with 20 g of protein. I had chili on two separate occasions, on separate days. My other eating habits stayed the same so the variables would be minimal. The first day, I did not take the pill. And like other times, I felt my stomach having difficulty digesting all that hamburger. On the second day, this time taking the pill, my results were different. I had an improved experience with the chili. Today, I am not having chili, but another high protein meal. And feeling good.
    Thank you very much for sharing this post, I think this may be a game changer.

  14. Lori Avatar

    Would you consider a glass of raw milk or greek yogurt an appropriate food to take HCL with?

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