What Is Betaine Hydrochloride (HCl)?

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 (HCl). 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 HCl from use in OTC products marketed as digestive aids due to the lack of evidence that it was “safe and effective.”

Even so, betaine HCl 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 HCl and how to take the supplement safely.

What Is Betaine HCl Used For?

Some healthcare providers may recommend betaine HCl for people with a 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 and test low for HCl. Symptoms include:

Hypochlorhydria is most common in people over 65, those who smoke, and individuals who overuse antacids.

Other Uses For Betaine HCl Supplement

Others have suggested that betaine hydrochloride can treat or prevent numerous 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.

A small study noted that betaine HCl with pepsin, a digestive enzyme that can be included with a betaine HCl supplement, may help with stomach lining irritation, as well as GERD related belching.

Betaine HCl Side Effects

Although user reviews for betaine HCl are mostly positive, there has not been enough research 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, certain individuals should not take betaine HCl including:

  • Children
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Individuals 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.

Dosage and Preparation

Betaine HCl 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 interested in betaine hydrochloride, speak with your healthcare provider before using it to determine how safe and effective it will be for you.

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
  • 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 not use that brand. 

Summary

Betaine HCl is a lab-made supplement used to increase stomach acid. Some health experts have suggested that it can treat hypochlorhydria, as well as other medical conditions. However, more research is needed.

During the 1980s, the FDA banned betaine hydrochloride for use as an OTC digestive aid due to the lack of evidence of its safety and effectiveness.

Keep in mind that there is no recommended dose of betaine hydrochloride and side effects, like heartburn, can occur. Certain individuals should not take betaine HCl due to the lack of safety research.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take betaine hydrochloride to work?

    Betaine HCl 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 HCl. Consult with your healthcare provider if you're wondering when you should take betaine HCl.

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

Additional Reading

By Lauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse is a journalist especially interested in covering women’s health, mental health, and social determinants of health. Her work appears in Women's Health, Prevention, and Self, among other publications.