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To betaine, or not to betaine (hydrochloric acid)

Devin Houston, Ph.D.

My anatomy professor in college amazed us naive students one day by drinking a glass of diluted hydrochloric acid (HCl). We thought it was a Dr. Devin Houstondeath-defying stunt until he told us the amount of acid in the glass was less than the acid content of our stomach.

Americans continue to be fascinated by the whole issue of stomach acid. From "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is," to the irritating commercials on acid reflux, we always seem to be unhappy with our acid situation.

HCl is secreted by special cells in the stomach wall. There is always some amount of acid being produced, but acid really pours out when food enters the stomach. The HCl does not break food down; that is left up to the enzymes.

Acid does prepare foods for digestion, especially proteins. Normally, proteins exist in a tightly coiled globular structure. Acid denatures the protein which results in the protein unraveling into a more linear structure. This then allows enzymes access to the peptide bonds so the protein can be broken down.

Acid also jump-starts enzyme activity. Above pH 5.0, stomach enzymes are inactive. Once acid lowers the pH to under 5.0, they become active. This is why those on acid reflux medications often get relief from the reflux but their digestion becomes less than optimal. The lack of acid prevents our own enzymes from working.

Luckily, enzyme supplements do not need HCl to be active because they are already in an active form, once they are in solution. Our plant-based enzymes can function in a broad range of pH, usually from 2 to 9.

I am often asked if I recommend taking betaine HCl. If one takes enzyme supplements I really see no need for doing so, but it also won't hurt the enzymes either.

If you feel better taking the betaine, then by all means use it. Your Houston Enzymes supplements will work just as well with or without it.

- Devin Houston
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