When taken as a supplement, betaine hydrochloride provides extra hydrochloric acid in the stomach. A major branch of alternative medicine known as naturopathy has long held that low stomach acid is a widespread problem that interferes with digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Betaine hydrochloride is one of the most common recommendations for this proposed condition, along with the more folksy choice of apple cider vinegar.
Betaine without the hydrochloride molecule attached is also sold as a supplement. In this chemically different form, it is called trimethylglycine (TMG). TMG is not acidic, and it has completely different properties. (For more information, see the TMG article.)
Betaine hydrochloride is not an essential nutrient, and no food sources exist.
Betaine hydrochloride is typically taken in pill form at dosages ranging from 325 to 650 mg with each meal.
Based on theories about the importance of stomach acid to overall health, betaine hydrochloride has been recommended for a wide variety of problems, including: asthma, digestive problems, excess candida, food allergies, hay fever, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other conditions. When one sees such broadly encompassing uses, it is not surprising to find that there is as yet no real scientific research on its effectiveness for any of these conditions.
Many naturopathic physicians also believe that betaine hydrochloride can heal ulcers and esophageal reflux (heartburn). This sounds paradoxical, since conventional treatment for those conditions involves reducing stomach acid, while betaine hydrochloride increases it. However, according to one theory, lack of stomach acid leads to incomplete digestion of proteins, and these proteins cause allergic reactions and other responses that lead to digestive problems, which in turn cause ulcers and heartburn. Again, scientific evidence is lacking.
Betaine hydrochloride should not be used by those with ulcers or esophageal reflux (heartburn) except on the advice of a physician. This supplement seldom causes any obvious side effects, but it has not been put through rigorous safety studies. In particular, safety for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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