This might seem crazy, but stomach acid really is good for you. Without it, your health suffers.
In fact, taking Betaine HCl to improve my stomach acid saved my digestion.
And if you’re unknowingly suffering from Low Stomach Acid like I was, it could help you too. Here are some signs that you might be suffering from low stomach acid:
- Undigested food in your stool
- Acid reflux
- Nutrient deficiencies
If you have these symptoms and you’re not sure if you have low stomach acid, please read this:
It seems counter-intuitive, but supplementing with Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) in the form of Betaine HCl can dramatically help people with low stomach acid. If you’re one of them, it’s about as close to a “magic pill” as you’re ever going to get.
But supplementing with stomach acid is not your ordinary run-of-the mill grocery store supplement.
Taking Betaine HCl is Serious Business.
I made a lot of painful mistakes taking Betaine HCl over the years… and what’s worse is I’m seeing those same mistakes in our private 1-on-1 clients.
These mistakes can cause Betaine HCl not to work and make symptoms much worse than they already are.
So in this post, we’re going to cover four common mistakes people make supplementing with Betaine HCl. Because this simple supplement can dramatically help those that need it, but hurt those who don’t use it properly.
Mistake 1: Using Betaine HCl When You’re Not Supposed To
In Dr. Jonathan Wright’s book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You, he explains that:
“HCl should never be taken by anyone who is also using any kind of anti-inflammatory medication such as corticosteroids (e.g., Prednisone), aspirin, Indocin, ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil), or other NSAIDs. These drugs can initiate damage to the GI lining that supplementary HCl might aggravate, increasing the risk of gastric bleeding or ulcer.”
He goes on to warn:
“A much greater proportion of ‘newbies’ have taken, or are still taking, medication that could adversely interact with HCl and pepsin supplements. The same medications (mostly anti-inflammatories, but other medications, too) can seriously weaken the stomach lining to the point where it cannot handle HCl even if it is really needed.”
This warning is especially important for many of us with Inflammatory Bowel Disease because we’re highly likely to be currently taking Prednisone, or to have taken it in the past.
Dr. Wright does point out that several of his patients have taken Betaine HCl while on corticosteroids, but where does that leave you if you’re in this high risk group?
Solution: if you’re not sure if you should take Betaine HCl, work with a skilled practitioner that knows about low stomach acid. And when in doubt… don’t use it. Instead, consider trying Digestive Bitters, which are a safe, natural stomach stimulants that can restore normal stomach acid production in some cases.
Mistake 2: Taking Betaine HCl without Pepsin
There’s a huge selection of Betaine HCl supplements on the market right now. The strange thing is many don’t contain Pepsin.
The above screencap is part of one of my crazy digestion mind maps. In it, you should see that a stomach that doesn’t produce enough HCl also won’t make enough pepsin.
And without pepsin… we can’t break down proteins into the peptides required for proper absorption (that’s really important).
I will say, I have read a few examples of people that were sensitive to pepsin and if that’s the case for you, taking a Betaine HCl supplement without pepsin could help. However, from what I can tell in the literature it’s extremely rare.
So, if you’re taking Betaine HCl without pepsin, you may be wasting a lot of money and not seeing the full benefit you could experience from using one that does contain pepsin.
Solution: Stick with Betaine HCl brands that contain pepsin, like the one from Thorne Research.
Mistake 3: Taking Betaine HCl with the Wrong Food
If you’ve ever taken Betaine HCl when you didn’t need it… you know how painful it can be.
While all foods trigger the release of gastric acid via the brain and expanding the stomach, proteins will stimulate stomach acid production more than any other food. And that makes sense, because proteins require stomach acid and pepsin to break down the food, whereas it’s not as important for non-protein foods.
That said, if you eat a meal lacking protein, you probably don’t need Betaine HCl because even a healthy stomach wouldn’t have naturally secreted much gastric acid anyway.
For example, if you eat a salad for lunch without any protein… taking Betaine HCl could prove painful and unnecessary.
However, if you eat an 8oz chicken breast for lunch
… Betaine HCl can help you digest that protein.
After making this mistake a few times, I fondly nicknamed it, “The stomach ache of death.” Take my word for it and avoid the stomach ache of death if you can.
Solution: Don’t take Betaine HCl unless you eat at least 15g of protein with your meal.
Mistake 4: Taking the Wrong Dosage of Betaine HCl
Going back to Dr. Jonathan Wright’s book on stomach acid, he noted that:
“The most effective adult dose of Betaine HCl is 5 to 7 of the 650 milligram capsules per meal, with pepsin.”
This is important for two reasons:
1) This is an average, so many people need to take more Betaine HCl and many people need to take less. You have to figure the custom dosage that works for you (more instructions on that here).
I know taking a supplement like this can feel scary. I was scared when I started testing it out years ago.
But if your body is the type that requires 6-8 pills and you’re only taking 1-2 pills, you may be missing the benefits.
So, it’s very important to find the custom dosage that works for your body by working with a skilled practitioner and following the instructions I linked to above this paragraph.
2) You don’t need the same dosage of Betaine HCl at every meal.
I fell into this trap. For years I took the same amount of Betaine HCl at every meal, no matter what I ate. Granted, I always eat protein at every meal so I needed SOME stomach acid, but here’s the rub: no two meals require the same amount of gastric acid to properly digest.
A healthy stomach will produce a custom amount of gastric acid specifically designed for each individual meal.
So, by taking the same amount of stomach acid with each meal, I wasn’t truly mimicking my body’s natural process. In fact, for some people, it may be why they digest some meals better than others even though they’re still taking stomach acid.
Solution: Vary your dosage of Betaine HCl depending on how much protein you ate. It’s all about how much protein you eat for a specific meal. If you eat 12oz of beef versus 6oz of beef, you probably need more Betaine. Keep testing out different amounts to see what works for you.
Betaine HCl: The Magic Pill?
If you’re someone with low stomach acid and you take Betaine HCl properly, it can be a “magic pill” for you. It can be the one supplement that dramatically improves your digestive symptoms.
But it’s one of the most complex supplements out there and I’ve never worked with any two people that used it exactly the same way. We each have a custom protocol that will work for us.
The important thing about Betaine HCl is this: use it carefully and work with a practitioner that knows about low stomach acid. And more importantly, know that the only real way to use it properly is to keep testing and tweaking it until you get it right.
What mistakes have you made with Betaine HCl? Please share them in the comments below.
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