Betaine HCl – Remembering the Basics
“Betaine” is a category of molecules that derive their name from Beet Root (the first dietary betaine discovered).
Trimethylglycine (TMG) is a popular molecule in the betaine family – consisting of the amino acid glycine with three methyl groups attached. TMGs main uses are as either a primary (reducing homocysteine into L-methionine for cardio-protection) or secondary (affecting folate and SAMEe metabolism) methyl donor. For clarity it’s important to remember that the terms “TMG” and “betaine” are used interchangeably
While still in the same molecular family, betaine hydrochloride [HCl] is a very different molecule. It is a protonated form of TMG, meaning it will give up or transfer a proton and a chloride ion in an aqueous solution (liquid). This makes betaine HCl a very good dietary source of hydrochloric or gastric acid.
The stomach produces a variety of substances that promote digestion. Gastric juice contains hydrochloric acid and pepsinogens. Hydrochloric acid is a strong mineral acid that functions to maintain the stomachs pH between 1.5-2.5. This acidic environment in the stomach serves several important functions:
1) a low pH functions to sterilize food by killing microorganisms (bacteria and yeast),
2) a low pH is required for the stomach to empty correctly and failure to do so can contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD or heartburn),
3) a low pH is required for the unfolding and digestion of proteins (meat, fish, etc),
4) a low pH is required for the absorption of certain micronutrients (mostly divalent and trivalent cat-ions) like calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, boron, etc.
The incidence of low stomach acid (or an alkaline gastric pH also known as hypochlorhydria) increases with age but is also a common presentation with other digestive disorders like IBS and SIBO, as well as peptic ulcer disease, H.Pylori overgrowth, diabetes and many other conditions.
Have you ever wondered why apple cider vinegar is so popular as a digestive aid? The vinegar acidifies the stomach and improves digestion.
How do you know if you have adequate stomach acid?
There are several methods of assessment. The Heidelberg Stomach Acid test and the Baking Soda Stomach acid test are not pleasant experiences, so I’ll quickly skip to the Betaine HCL Challenge.
These instructions are from Dr. Johathan Wright, in his book “Why Stomach Adic is Good for You”.
- Eat a high protein meal with 4-6 ounces of animal protein
- In the middle of the meal take 1 betain HCl capsule (a common dosage is 650mg)
- Finish your meal and pay close attention to your body
There are really only two outcomes:
- You don’t notice anything – this likely indicates that you are low in stomach acid and you can increase the dose by 1 capsule per protein meal.
- If you notice a “warmth” in the sternal area of your chest, your stomach acid pH is likely sufficient, and if you drink a large glass of water the warmth sensation will diminish.
As complex as clinical practice can seem at times, it’s always important to remember the basics. The digestive system is a top-down system and making sure the stomach pH is adequate can be a simple solution in many complex cases.
Julie Beck, DC MS CSCS