One of our favorite health educators, Bruce Topping, is an expert on nutritional solutions for digestive health. He taught us that acid reflux (heartburn) is a lot more common than people think, and told us about a powerful solution called the Betaine Hydrochloride (HCL) Protocol.

Betaine hydrochloride has an interesting history. It used to be included in over-the-counter (OTC) products as a “stomach acidifier and digestive aid.” But a federal law that went into effect in 1993 banned betaine hydrochloride from use in OTC products because there wasn’t enough evidence to classify it “generally recognized as safe and effective.” Betaine hydrochloride is now available only as a dietary supplement whose purity and strength can vary. Read on to learn about the common myth about stomach acid in relation to acid reflux and how HCL can help solve your heartburn dilemma.

Bruce referred us to an article by Dr. Steven Wright that perfectly articulated the protocol of using HCL and how it can help to rebuild your gut.

How to Figure Out Your Betaine HCL Dose

  • Each person will have a specific supplementary HCL dosage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a special formula I can give you to figure it out. This is a case of trial and error until you get to the correct dosage. Failing to get to your correct dosage can remove the benefits of supplementing.
  • You must find the right dosage for you situation. If you fail to do the trial and error you’re wasting your time and money.
  • The stomach is purposely built to handle extreme acid environments. If your correct dosage is 2400 mg and you’re only taking 1200 mg, you’re not really doing your stomach any favors. You must follow the process below to figure out the right dosage to get the maximum benefit.


The HCL Protocol

1. Eat a meal that contains at least 15-20 grams of protein (about 4-6 ounces of meat.)

2. Start by taking 1 pill (650 mg or less) of Betaine HCL during the beginning of the meal.

3. Finish the meal as normal and observe your body for any changes in feeling associated with the stomach and belly button area. Things to look for: heaviness, hotness, burning, or other GI distress.

4. Stay at this dosage of 1 pill for another day of meals with protein and if you don’t notice anything on the 3rd day, try 2 pills.

5. Stay there for another day and then try 3 pills.

6. Keep increasing the number of pills taken with each meal until you notice some GI discomfort described in step #3.

7. When this happens, you will know your ideal Betaine HCL dosage is 1 pill less. For example, if you felt the discomfort going from 5 pills to 6 pills, then 5 pills is your proper dosage for a normal meal.



Troubleshooting the Protocol:

  • If you eat a snack or a meal without much protein, you won’t need as much Betaine HCL (for a small snack like a piece of fruit you won’t need any at all)
  • When you experience the GI discomfort finding your correct dosage, you can mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 8 oz of water and drink it to help lessen the pain.
  • Dr. Wright notes in his book that “paradoxically adverse symptoms are most likely to occur in individuals with the lowest levels of stomach acid. This is because these people are most likely to have atrophic gastritis (a thinned-out stomach lining,) which makes them much more sensitive to even small quantities of HCL than a normal, thicker stomach lining.” This makes sense because a super inflamed stomach lining won’t have its normal protective barrier intact to contain the strong acids. In this case, it is wise to start with digestive bitters or get smaller dose Betaine HCL pills (think 350 mg or less.)
  • If you have low stomach acid and you can’t supplement with Betaine HCL, there’s a few natural methods to help with symptoms. Start by taking a shot of lemon juice or vinegar before a meal to help the symptoms of indigestion. But know that these don’t actually help the digestion of food only the symptoms.



Add-on Products to Make the HCL Protocol Safer and More Effective:

  • A full-spectrum digestive enzyme helps you digest problem foods including dairy and beans as well as fats, proteins, and carbs. Proper enzyme levels ensure your food breaks down easily and properly releasing all the nutrients while maintaining gut motility.
  • Quickly put out the fire with chewable DGL (licorice without the licorice taste). DGL increases the protective mucus layer in the esophagus and stomach to soothe, heal, and protect irritated tissues. This protective herb is vital because it gives you soothing relief while you fix your stomach pH!
  • Digestive bitters support the production of hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes and bile to promote healthy bowel function. Digestive bitters can also help keep the valve at the bottom of our throats closed tight, keeping our stomach acid confined to where it’s supposed to be, and not bubbling like an angry volcano in your throat.



I Need to Take How Many Betaine HCL Pills?

“It’s very common for people to stop short of their needed Betaine HCL dosage. In fact, in the beginning I was nervous about taking 6 pills at a meal. But trust me, there is nothing to worry about.”

Dr. Wright reports that the common Betaine HCL dosage range in his clinical practice is 3,250-4,550 mg per meal. That means there are also plenty of people who need above 5,000 mg for an effective dosage.


In summation:

  • Remember, a normal functioning stomach is capable of producing and handling extreme acid ranges.
  • If your dosage starts getting extremely high without any GI distress (step #3,) you must use your GI symptoms as a guide instead. These include burping, bloating, flatulence, and stool consistency.
  • Keep everything else the same in your diet as you wait for these indicators to change for the better.
  • Just because you can take 20 pills, doesn’t mean you should. It could be that at 11 pills all of your problems disappear. Try to find the minimum dose needed to help your GI symptoms.
  • An advanced acid reflux protocol includes Betaine HCL, Digestive Enzymes, DGL, and Digestive Bitters.