What Is Betaine Hydrochloride?

A Digestive Aid Banned by the FDA in the 1980s

Betaine hydrochloride (also known as betaine HCL) is a chemical produced in a lab that is meant to increase a stomach acid known as hydrochloric acid. In the past, betaine hydrochloride was sold as an over-the-counter (OTC) digestive aid.

However, during the late 1980s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned betaine hydrochloride from use in OTC products marketed as digestive aids due to the lack of evidence that it was “safe and effective.”

Even so, betaine hydrochloride can still be found in supplement form where it is thought to treat conditions like diarrhea and yeast infections.

benefits of betaine hydrochloride
Verywell / Ellen Lindner

This article takes at look at the medical claims by manufacturers of betaine hydrochloride and whether there is any evidence of health benefits. It also explains the possible side effects of betaine hydrochloride and how to take the supplement safely.

What Is Betaine Hydrochloride Used For?

Betaine hydrochloride is commonly marketed as a digestive supplement. Some healthcare providers may recommend it for people with a common condition called hypochlorhydria. This occurs when there is an insufficient amount of stomach acids to properly digest food.

Roughly one out of five people experience hypochlorhydria, although most don't realize it. Symptoms include feeling full early, indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Hypochlorhydria is most common in people over 65, those who smoke, and individuals who overuse antacids.

Others have suggested that betaine hydrochloride can treat or prevent numerous unrelated health conditions, including:

In assessing the health claims, the FDA could find no evidence that betaine hydrochloride was able to treat or prevent any health condition, including hypochlorhydria.

There have also been suggestions that betaine hydrochloride can aid in the absorption of certain drugs by increasing acids that break down the drugs faster. To date, there has been little evidence to support the claims.

Recap

Betaine hydrochloride is thought to treat low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) and other unrelated health conditions. To date, there is no evidence that it can treat or prevent any medical condition.

Possible Side Effects

There has not been enough research about betaine hydrochloride to know if it’s safe for long-term use. According to a 2016 report published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, one common side effect is heartburn. 

Due to the lack of safety research, betaine hydrochloride should not be used in children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with medical conditions.

Because betaine hydrochloride can boost acids in the stomach, it should be avoided in people with peptic ulcers. It may also reduce the effectiveness of antacids, proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), and H2 blockers used to treat acid reflux.

Recap

Betaine hydrochloride may cause heartburn. It is unknown how safe the supplement is for long-term use.

Dosage and Preparation

Betaine hydrochloride supplements are sold online and in pharmacies, health food stores, and supplements shops. They are available as tablets, capsules, and powders.

There is no recommended dose for betaine hydrochloride. As a general rule, never exceed the dose listed on the product label.

If you’re considering using betaine hydrochloride, speak with your healthcare provider to ensure that you have no condition for which the supplement may cause problems.

Recap

There is no recommended dose of betaine hydrochloride. Never exceed the dose on the product label.

What to Look For

Nutrition supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. Because of this, the quality of some supplements may be better than others.

To ensure purity, opt for brands that have been independently tested by third-party certifying bodies like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Certification does not mean that the supplement is safe or effective. It simply ensures that the supplement contains the ingredients listed on the product label in the correct amount and no contaminants have been found.

Per FDA guidelines, manufacturers cannot claim that a supplement can treat, prevent, or cure any disease. If a manufacturer is making unsubstantiated claims, that’s a red flag that you should steer of that brand. 

Recap

Only buy supplements that have been independently tested and certified by the U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

Summary

Betaine hydrochloride is a lab-made supplement used to increase stomach acid. Some health experts have suggested that it can treat conditions like hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and other unrelated medical conditions. During the 1980s, the FDA banned betaine hydrochloride for use as an over-the-counter digestive aid due to the lack of evidence of its safety and effectiveness.

Betaine hydrochloride is available as a supplement. Heartburn is the most commonly reported side effect. It is unknown if betaine hydrochloride poses any long-term health risks; further research is needed.

There is no recommended dose of betaine hydrochloride. Due to the lack of safety research, it should be avoided in children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those who have medical conditions. Betaine hydrochloride may reduce the effectiveness of heartburn medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take betaine hydrochloride to work?

    Betaine hydrochloride can rapidly increase stomach acids, usually within three to six minutes. Even so, the effects tend to be short-lasting, and it is unclear if the passing effect has any real benefit.  

  • Should I take betaine hydrochloride with every meal?

    There is no recommended dose or dosing schedule for betaine hydrochloride. Always consult with your healthcare provider before using betaine hydrochloride.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yago MR, Frymoyer A, Benet LZ, et al. The use of betaine HCl to enhance dasatinib absorption in healthy volunteers with rabeprazole-induced hypochlorhydriaAAPS J. 2014;16(6):1358-1365. doi:10.1208/s12248-014-9673-9

  2. Kines K, Krupczak T. Nutritional interventions for gastroesophageal reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypochlorhydria: A case reportIntegr Med (Encinitas); 15(4):49-53.

  3. Yago MR, Frymoyer AR, Smelick GS, et al. Gastric reacidification with betaine HCl in healthy volunteers with rabeprazole-induced hypochlorhydriaMol Pharm. 2013;10(11):4032-4037. doi:10.1021/mp4003738

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