Should you take HCl (Hydrochloric acid)?

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My anatomy professor in college amazed us naive students one day by drinking a glass of diluted hydrochloric acid (HCl), also known as betaine. 

We thought it was a death-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. And rightly so, since about 20% of adults in the US suffer from reflux.[1]

What exactly does HCl do?
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 causes the protein to unravel. 

Picture a pearl necklace in a rolled up ball. It would be difficult for enzymes to reach all the parts of the necklace. 

Now imagine the string of pearls uncoiled, with no knots. The enzymes now have better access to all of the necklace.  Better access means the necklace – the protein - can be broken down to smaller parts.


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.

Enzyme supplements do it all
Luckily, enzyme supplements do not need HCl to be active. 

This is because enzymes are already in an active form once they are in a liquid solution. That means as soon as enzymes mix with the food in your stomach, they start working. Our enzyme supplements can function in a broad range of pH, usually from 2 to 9.

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Do you really need betaine HCl?

We are often asked if we recommend taking betaine HCl. 

If you take enzyme supplements, we 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 betaine HCl.



Posted in Digestion;