June 28, 2012

Betaine Hydrochloride

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

In my initial consultation with prospective new patients, I try to cover any and all ill health symptoms each person reports. I do this to allow me to open the conversation about topics not usually associated with a chiropractor. One of the symptoms reported the most is acid reflux, heart burn, gas and bloating, or whatever you wish to call it. They are all linked by having a single cause, in many cases.

Many of you are already saying, “Well, that’s easy, it’s too much stomach acid.” WRONG! This is a common misconception propagated by the endless TV commercials for antacid drugs. Strangely enough, the symptoms of overproduction and underproduction of stomach acid are virtually identical. Therefore, it is unwise to jump to conclusions regarding what is occurring in the stomach without actually testing.

Too little stomach acid is much more likely to be the cause than too much. This is called hypochlorhydria or too little hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach. It begins as a gut deficiency and is one of the leading causes of gas and indigestion, and can lead to many diseases and chronic inflammation. Without HCL, protein cannot be properly digested and many nutrients aren’t absorbed properly. Without HCL, you absorb less calcium, folic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), magnesium and zinc. You absorb iron better with proper HCL levels. Your food is not digesting, and it is sitting in your stomach too long, fermenting and causing the acidic contents to boil up your esophagus. Also, HCL from the stomach is a signal to the pancreas to do its job. Diseases associated with low acid include asthma, lupus, anemia, psoriasis, arthritis, ulcers and more. Indicators of low acid can be as simple as gas and bloating, or more complex such as food allergies, constipation, anemia and nausea.

As the body ages, the amount of HCL secreted to aid digestion decreases. HCL has the main function I described above, but it also serves as a protective barrier, killing many potentially harmful micro-organisms in our food. It also acts as a venting mechanism for the buildup of excessive concentrations of hydrogen ions in our blood. These excesses come from consuming acid forming foods or engaging in acid forming activities, such as heavy exercise. Making HCL uses the excess hydrogen ions, thereby eliminating them from your body. Once stomach acid is combined with food, it is alkalized by pancreatic secretions further down the alimentary canal.

Unfortunately, when you present to your PCP with these symptoms, the drugs come out. How many of you who take those drugs have ever had your production levels of HCL tested by the doctor? I’m betting virtually none, I haven’t run across one person in my office to date who has. The test is called the “Heidelberg Capsule Test,” and is capable of determining actual acid production. There is a simple alternative, “low tech” method of making a correct determination. It involves using a Betaine Hydrochloride supplement as a challenge substance, when eating, to see if indigestion improves.

Here’s how:

  1. In week one, start with one capsule (approx. 650 mg) of Betaine HCL just prior to or with each meal. If you should happen to immediately feel worse pain and burning, this is a bad sign. It means you actually may have a high acid problem, or you have a stomach lining issue, which is generally an ulcer. To quell immediate worsening of symptoms, simply drink a glass of baking soda water, using 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 6 ounces of water. That should ease the pain, and you have diagnosed a problem.
  2. If, after 3-5 days you see no changes for the bad, increase the dose to 2 capsules before each meal. If nothing worsens, go to 3 capsules each meal. If all is going well, stay at that dose. Only rarely does one need to go to 4 capsules.
  3. Continue at your dosage level, the one that causes no extra burning in the stomach, until that dose starts causing an uncomfortable burning when used. When this occurs, back off to the next lower dose, and it should disappear. Stay there, and continue this process of reducing HCL each time a certain level becomes uncomfortable.

Regular use can actually “re-train” the stomach to produce high concentrations of acid on its own, essentially curing you over time. The whole process can take from weeks to months. The most significant indication that acid production is improving is that Betaine HCL supplementation can no longer comfortably be tolerated, and you feel better after meals. Some people can get to the point of actually discontinuing Betaine HCL use and be completely cured, while others may need to continue a low dose to make up for a lack of self-produced HCL.

Lastly, this is very inexpensive to take. It shouldn’t cost more than $15 for 90 capsules; much less than those drugs used to hide the symptoms.