Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is a compound consisting of hydrogen and chlorine. HCl is secreted in the stomach and is a major component of gastric juice.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is produced in the stomach by the parietal cells to assist with dietary fat and protein digestion.
- The under-production of HCl* (hypochlorhydria) can impair the absorption of several vitamins and minerals from the digestive tract. In some cases this can cause pernicious anaemia. Low HCl levels may also cause symptoms such as fatigue, thrush, gum disease, food sensitivities, flatulence, bloating and discomfort after meals. This is different from achlorhydria which is a complete lack of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the digestive juices in the stomach.
- The over-production of HCl * is usually not the cause of reflux (heartburn). It is more likely due to a problem with the sphincter (valve) between the stomach and the oesophagus or increased pressure in the stomach forcing gastric acid up into the oesophagus. There are some situations, however, where excessive gastric acid production can cause symptoms of digestive discomfort.
- Low HCl levels* Hypochlorhydria may be caused by old age, anxiety, depression, long-term use of antacids, overeating, Vitamins A and B group deficiencies and a very low protein diet.
- High HCl levels * Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can cause an increase in stomach acid production. Overeating or eating food that is difficult to digest, such as a large quantity of red meat, can cause the over-production of HCl.
People with eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa who are vomiting regularly, often develop very severe disturbances in HCl production.
As with all medical conditions consult your Doctor for the diagnosis and treatment of a disturbance in HCl production. Your Doctor may refer you to a Dietician for treatment. If HCl production is too low, you may elect to take a Betaine HCl supplement with your meals, under your Doctor's supervision.The parietal cells which make HCl also make pepsinogen, which is converted to pepsin in the stomach. A pepsin supplement, therefore, may also be required.
If too much HCl is being produced your Doctor may prescribe medication to block the production of stomach acid. Discuss the potential side-effects of long-term use of these drugs with your Doctor.
PHARMACIST'S ADVICEAsk your Pharmacist for advice. 1) HCl supplements should only be taken if a deficiency of HCl has been diagnosed by your healthcare professional. 2) HCl supplements are an effective short-term measure to provide the digestive system with adequate levels of HCl. In the long term, eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of wholesome foods can stimulate the body to produce a healthy secretion of HCl. 3) Eating meals slowly and avoiding large meals when overtired or upset will also help to normalise HCl production and promote good digestion. 4) Antacids may provide effective short-term relief from the symptoms of excessive stomach acid production. The long-term use of antacids may inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients from food. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.