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How to Take Betaine HCl Supplements: A Dietitian Explains Dosage, Timing & Meals

If you’ve tried working out how to take Betaine HCL for digestion and bloating, you’ve probably run into a few issues. For example, what type of meal should you take it with? When is the best time? to take it? And of course…the biggest question of them all: how much to take? Well, in this article I’m going to answer all of these questions for you and as you’ll see, using Betaine HCL the right way is nowhere near as difficult as getting Wordle right on your first try or learning a dance for TikTok! Let’s go!

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Table of Contents

    What Type Of Meal?

    Well, to find the answer to this, our research team at Essential Stacks dug into this fantastic 2020 study that appeared in the journal of Integrative Medicine. In their paper, the researchers found the ideal meal contains at least 500 calories and an adequate amount of protein. In other words, you only want to take HCL when you are eating a substantial meal, as opposed to a light snack.

    And just as importantly, it needs to contain protein-rich foods like meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, or high-protein plant based foods. For example, a chicken salad using 6 oz or 170 grams of chicken would meet this  definition.

    By contrast, you don't want to take Betaine HCL with something low in calories and or protein, such as a fruit salad or vegetable snack. Not only is it NOT necessary for digestion, but it can also potentially cause heartburn - the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

    When To Take Betaine HCL?

    Now in terms of when to take Betaine HCL, we’ve seen some confusing takes on this in the health space lately. So let’s clear this up once and for all.

    • So first of all, it’s worth noting that HCL works really fast. In fact it might just be the Usain Bolt of the digestion world.  In this 2013 study that appeared in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, researchers found "HCL starts to take effect just 6 minutes after being ingested".
    • In addition, HCL works to support the acidity of the stomach, which is only important when your body is digesting a meal - and not before and not long after.
    • So with all of this in mind it is best to take Betaine HCL just as you begin eating or even during your meal, but no earlier or later than this window.
    • You see, if you take it any earlier than this, when it is not needed, it can create a false positive of heartburn-like symptoms. And if you take it any longer, it might not work so well, since the food will already be digesting in the stomach.

    How Much Betaine HCL?

    Well, this depends on 2 things…

    1. First of all, what type of meal you are eating.  Meaning how big is it and how much protein is in it? For example, if you’re eating a big dinner with an 8 to 12 oz steak, plus some protein-rich veggies like asparagus and spinach, you might want more HCL than someone eating a small ham and cheese sandwich.
    2. And the second thing that it depends on is how much acid your stomach is currently making. If it’s very little, then you might want to take more HCL than other people. By contrast, if you’re just a little bit low on stomach acid, you might not need much supplemental HCL at all.

    The Betaine HCL Challenge Test

    To help you work out the right amount, researchers came up with a simple challenge you can do at home called the Betaine HCL Challenge Test. And don’t worry…you’re not getting graded. But you should definitely do this under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

    So this test was detailed in the 2020 paper we mentioned earlier in the article. And the researchers summed it up like this:

    "This protocol involves giving patients increasing doses of Betaine HCl at mealtimes until such time as noticeable discomfort is reported." 

    And when they say discomfort, they are referring to things like heartburn, diarrhea, a warm sensation in the chest or any type of bodily discomfort. And once that point is reached, you reduce the amount of HCL with each meal, until such time as you have no discomfort.

    How To Do The HCL Challenge Test

    And to show you how the test might be done, here is an example. And bear with us for a minute as we go through it, as we want to make sure it is clear.

    Day

    Meal

    Betaine HCL Supplement

    Discomfort?

    1

    Dinner w 6 oz / 170 gram of protein-rich food

    E.g. 6 oz salmon filet, 1 cup spinach, 0.5 sweet potato

    500 mg

    If no, continue

    2

    Same as above

    500 mg

    If no, continue

    3

    Same as above

    1,000 mg

    If no, continue

    4

    Same as above

    1,000 mg

    If no, continue

    5

    Same as above

    1,500 mg

    If no, continue

    1. So day 1 you would take 500mg of HCL with a protein-rich dinner. For example grilled salmon, with spinach and sweet potato. If no discomfort is felt, then your stomach acid is still low, so you’ll want to repeat the challenge the next day.
    2. But before moving up to a higher dose, you want to re-test the 500mg amount. If you once again experience no discomfort, then you can try a higher dose of HCL the following day.
    3. In this example, and to keep things easy, you might try 1000mg on day 3. And if there is still no discomfort, then you retest.
    4. And so on.
    5. Now, the minute you feel discomfort after a meal, you’ve found your maximum dose and you should not take this amount again. From here, you gradually decrease the amount by one capsule each meal until you reach a tolerable dose that improves your digestive symptoms and doesn’t cause heartburn - meaning your Goldilocks zone of HCL!

    And an important tip before we go on, if you experience extremely uncomfortable symptoms during the challenge, you can neutralize the acid by mixing one teaspoon of baking soda into water or milk and drinking this.

    How To Choose A Betaine HCL Supplement

    If you look at all the different Betaine HCL supplements out there, they come in a variety of different dosages. Some are 250 milligrams, some are 500 milligrams, and then others might be 648 or 650 milligrams.

    Here at Essential Stacks, we make ours with 500mg of Betaine HCL per capsule. And that’s because most studies have used 500mg as the interval between doses, including ones mentioned in the 2020 paper. So it works really well for easily titrating the dose up or down as part of the Betaine HCL challenge test.

    Probably just as importantly, it can be worth looking for a HCL supplement that also contains pepsin. In fact, if we look at the study in the journal of Integrative Medicine, they specifically mention that consuming Betaine HCL with added pepsin may be superior for overall benefit.

    Meaning it can help you digest the protein in your food even better than HCL by itself. Which is why you’ll see we have also incorporated pepsin into Upgraded Betaine HCL.

    Now we want to hear from you…

    How much HCL have you found works for you?

    Let everyone know by leaving a comment below.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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    References

    1. Guilliams TG, Drake LE. Meal-Time Supplementation with Betaine HCl for Functional Hypochlorhydria: What is the Evidence?. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2020;19(1):32-36.
    2. Martinsen TC, Fossmark R, Waldum HL. The Phylogeny and Biological Function of Gastric Juice-Microbiological Consequences of Removing Gastric Acid. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(23):6031. Published 2019 Nov 29. doi:10.3390/ijms20236031
    3. Yago MR, Frymoyer AR, Smelick GS, et al. Gastric reacidification with betaine HCl in healthy volunteers with rabeprazole-induced hypochlorhydria. Mol Pharm. 2013;10(11):4032-4037. doi:10.1021/mp4003738