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Absolutely Everyone With Heartburn/Acid Indigestion Should Try Betaine HCl Once

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If you have problems with heartburn / acid indigestion / acid reflux / GERD, and in particular if you are on long-term acid reducers, you owe it to yourself to try this regimen. It might not work, but if it does it is life changing.

Besides this simple regimen here, I also recommend trying out an elimination diet, of which more later on.

The Regimen

The regimen is simple:

  1. buy a bottle of Betaine HCl (for example, I happen to be currently using this one, but honestly I don’t think it matters)
  2. stop your acid reducers completely
  3. wait until you start to have noticeable but mild acid problems
  4. take one pill every 10 minutes until either the acid problems stop or get MUCH worse

If it gets way worse, I’d still try it again some other time (take a bunch of short-term antacids to solve your current problem, and try again another day), just in case, but most likely what that means is this method isn’t for you.

FWIW, if this doesn’t work for you I will buy your excess pills. I’ll also be happy to just give you some from my own stash to try this out with if you’re local.

If it gets better, congratulations!, you can probably drop your acid reducers now. It will require considerable experimentation to know how much and how often; the person who suggested this to me takes 10-15 pills with every meal; I have slowly needed less and less and as of this writing (28 Feb 2021) am taking 1-2 every 2-3 days.

After a while I was able to predict what problems would come by noticing when I was feeling particularly full and take pills before problems arose. I particularly recommend taking them after/during a meal with lots of fat.

Why Is This Better Than Acid Reducers?

Acid reducers (obviously) reduce the amount and/or acidity of your stomach acid. This has some negative consequences, such as it doesn’t kill bacteria as effectively and it reduces calcium absorption ( here’s a Harvard write up about these issues ).

I am not aware of any similar negative aspects of taking Betaine HCl

Is This Safe For Children?

Yes; my kids have been having Betaine HCl occasionally as needed since they were old enough to swallow pills reliably.

Having said that, DO NOT give it to children who cannot swallow pills reliably. Betaine HCl pills stuck in your throat will dissolve and then you’ve coated your throat with powdered acid. It won’t do any permanent harm, but it is not fun.

How Does This Work?

Well, that’s the fun part.

This regimen works very well for me and many other people (life-changing for me), but my understanding of why it works is folklore; I have been able to find no solid writeup of this. All the online stuff I’ve found has been either like this page that says it’s near-quackery (although note that page is talking about claims that taking Betaine HCl will improve your stomach acidity, like, in general?, which literally no-one I know has ever suggested) or pages that are VERY newage/woo-woo.


The explanation I was given was that one of the things your stomach does is hold food in there until it’s digested enough, and one of the ways your stomach decides if food is digested enough is acidity; the idea is that your stomach acid is spent on your food, and once the acidity reaches a certain threshold that says “hey all the food has been acidified”. Your stomach responds to this by opening its lower sphincter and letting stuff out.

However, if your stomach acid’s acidity is lower than your stomach’s acidity trigger point, that response of letting the food out will not function properly, with the result that your stomach slowly fills with low-acidity acid, which eventually rises into your esophagus. An important thing to note here is that “low acidity for stomach acid” is still very high acidity as far as esophogeal tissue is concerned.

So the mechanism of action of the Betaine HCl pills is to raise the acidity of your stomach acid to the point where your stomach releases and things pass into your intestines as they should.

UPDATE: The person originally got me to try Betaine HCl found some links for me; here’s a functional medicine case study that points in the general direction of this mechanism of action, and a naturopathic article that is more specific about it.

You Should Probably Also Try An Elimination Diet

Now, obviously, I’m not you, but for me it turns out that a substantial portion of my acid problems are caused by potatoes. I don’t know what’s going on there, but potatoes cause my entire digestive system to basically just stop for a day or two, which leads to considerable bloating and, until I started doing Betaine HCl, extreme heartburn. Even now eating potatoes in any form will cause heartburn over the next couple of days if I’m not very, very careful.

(Terminology note: the above is a food sensitivity, it is not an allergy. Mostly the distinction doesn’t matter and we all use the terms interchangeably, but do not say you are allergic to a food to a medical professional unless you mean an actual allergy because you will badly derail the conversation, and more to the point if you’re bothering to mention it to a doctor you should mean “I break out in hives / have trouble breathing” or why are you bringing it up?)

You could certainly try eliminating potatoes and see what happens, but that’s not actually my point. My point is that the human body is a super complex place, and can have super weird reactions to foods. I therefore recommend that if you’ve had a long-term serious acid problem, you try an elimination diet at some point. Ideally you simply go straight to eating only a single food for several days and see if that helps. I’d suggest 5 days. And not that when I say just on food, I mean just one food; no condiments. The standard food is white rice, because it’s a rare-ish allergy/sensitivity for some reason. However, some people are sensitive to it, so ideally you do this twice, with two different foods.

It is possible to do elimination diets by eliminating individual foods and eating everything else, but (1) it’s WAY more complicated, because you have to read every single food label in great detail and (2) it takes forever to do that with even the major allergens, and if I had done so I might never have gotten around to potatoes because it’s not a common allergen at all. I strongly suggest doing a 1 food elimination diet and then if it works, you do a targeted diet to figure out what the problem food is.

(Side comment: the only reason I know that I have my potatoe issue is because the first time I had heartburn after a 2 week trip to Japan I went “Huh, it feels like it’s been ages since I had heartb… waaaaitaminit!)

I do NOT recommend fasting for this particular elimination diet test, because many people will have at least some negative stomach acid reactions at various points when fasting.