Back in 2017, I was a guest on Katie Wells’ (Wellness Mama’s) Healthy Moms Podcast talking all about why hormonal birth control messes with our hormones, and what to do instead.
After the episode aired, I got flooded with questions about the pill, the IUD and natural birth control options. I’ve talked pretty extensively about the pill’s side effects here, here, and here, but I have never written specifically about the Paragard aka the copper IUD.
Before I jump in, I wanna say that I fully believe all women and menstruators should choose the birth control they want to use, but that the decision should be based on fully informed consent.
Meaning, a medical doctor should be explaining ALL of the potential benefits, risks, and ALTERNATIVES involved in a medical treatment.
Currently that is not the case for most women – they are not offered all the birth control options, nor are they told all the risks (in many cases) which means they are not 100% informed.
What is a copper IUD?
An IUD is a small T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus. There are 2 options for IUDs. The copper IUD (ParaGard) releases copper which is toxic to live sperm and the Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta or Skyla which release varying amounts of progestin (depending on which one you choose) to prevent ovulation. The Paragard is effective for up to 10 years and the hormonal options are effective for anywhere between 3-7 years.
This is the definition of the Paragard IUD from their website…
Paragard is a small, hormone-free IUD made of soft, flexible plastic wrapped with a thin layer of copper. It’s placed in your uterus by a healthcare provider during an office visit in just a few minutes.
How it works
The copper in Paragard impairs sperm motility (ability to move), thus preventing sperm from reaching the egg and fertilizing it. It may also prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
What is the effectiveness of a copper IUD?
The Paragard is 99.2% effective versus the Mirena, which is 99.8% effective.
Disclaimer on the Paragard website. If you have an IUD, were you aware of all this when you had it inserted?
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
- Do not use PARAGARD if you have a pelvic infection, get infections easily or have certain cancers. Less than 1% of users get a serious infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- If you miss a period, have persistent abdominal pain, or if PARAGARD comes out, tell your healthcare provider (HCP). If it comes out, use back-up birth control.
- This is what it said in 2019 on their site. They’ve softened the language today – Occasionally, PARAGARD may attach to or in rare cases may go through the uterine wall and may also cause other problems. In some cases, surgical removal may be necessary. Although uncommon, pregnancy while using PARAGARD can be life threatening and may result in loss of pregnancy or infertility.
- Bleeding or spotting may increase at first but should decrease in 2 to 3 months.
- PARAGARD does not protect against HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Other important facts you should know:
You can’t use the copper IUD if you have an allergy to copper or have Wilson’s disease, which causes your body to store too much copper.
I am curious if women who are getting the copper IUD are tested for an allergy, or Wilson’s disease before having it inserted? Let me know!
My thoughts on the Paragard
A copper IUD is a good option for a number of reasons. It is a long-lasting and very effective form of birth control and, on the whole, has some of the highest satisfaction and continuation rates among users.
However, there are a few factors to consider along with some side effects, both while you have it in and after it is removed that you should be aware of…
It’s important to know how it actually works!
Keep in mind, as mentioned above, the copper IUD does not stop your body from ovulating.
Here is what they say on their website:
“The copper in Paragard works to prevent sperm from reaching the egg and fertilizing it and may also prevent implantation.”
It would be good for them to explain how that works, but maybe it’s just me who wants ALL the answers all the time. ♀️
Mayo Clinic says:
The T-shaped plastic frame has copper wire coiled around the stem and two copper sleeves along the arms that continuously release copper to bathe the lining of the uterus. ParaGard produces an inflammatory reaction in the uterus that is toxic to sperm, which helps prevent fertilization.
Not loving this whole ”inflammatory response in the uterus” thing.
This IUD prevents fertilization by damaging or killing sperm and making the mucus in the cervix thick and sticky, so sperm can’t get through to the uterus.
Bottom line is this…
The copper IUD creates an inflammatory response in the uterus and reduces the thickness of the endometrial lining, which impairs implantation.
This means that sometimes the copper IUD is effective post-fertilization, and this is why it can be placed after unprotected sex to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. So basically, it can be used as emergency contraception.
Note: Localized inflammation in the uterus and cervix isn’t a problem for all women, but for others it is – causing severe period pain.
Additionally, the copper is toxic to sperm, which impairs its motility, and copper concentration in the cervical mucus is higher which also leads to an inhibition of sperm motility.
All of this totally makes sense, but I would love for it to be said on the Paragard website so we know what we’re getting rather than having to dig.
A few side effects to consider…
Maybe because of the nature of my work I hear ALL the bad stories, but seriously, why do we have to put up with any birth control side effects ever? Are women’s bodies just collateral damage??
#1 Movement or perforation of the uterus – The possibility of the IUD becoming dislodged and either coming out, or perforating the uterus and/or getting stuck and having to be surgically removed is very real.
#2 Increased menstrual pain – Additionally, MANY women experience increased cramps (I’ve heard they can be debilitating cramps), and extremely heavy bleeding. It tapers off for some women after about 3-6 months, but not everyone. This is the number one reason women have it removed. If you already have painful and/or heavy periods, this might not be the best form of birth control for you.
#3 Excessive bleeding – Plus, spotting for up to ten days leading up to a period, menstrual blood clots and very long periods are very common too. Ultimately you have to decide what is best for you but I strongly recommend weighing the pros and cons carefully.
#4 Bacterial disruption – all IUD’s are placed in the uterus and their strings hang down through the cervix into the vaginal canal. The composition of the microbiota in the uterus versus the vagina are different, and the string creates a “line of communication” between these two areas which would otherwise not happen.
This can change the microbial balance in the vagina, and increase the likelihood of vaginal infections.
Excess copper and “copper toxicity” from using an IUD
I get A LOT of pushback when I mention it, because I’m basing this on anecdotal evidence. There is no actual scientific study proving that excess copper or copper toxicity is a “thing”….yet.
But does that mean it doesn’t exist? Hell no.
There were no studies in 1990 proving that fat didn’t cause high cholesterol, and look how that turned out. Why wait for science to catch up with something that is so clearly happening? And you can bet your bottom dollar that the manufacturer of the copper IUD is not interested in scientific proof that their product sucks anyways, so we might be waiting awhile for that.
Copper excess, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid & adrenals
While there may not be any proven direct correlation, there is a ton of evidence linking excess copper to all kinds of problems related to our menstrual cycle and fertility. Copper levels are significantly higher in women with infertility, and there is a correlation between both the hormonal and copper IUD, and infertility. On the flip side, low copper is often linked to miscarriages.
Copper has an affinity for estrogen – when one rises, so does the other. This is why women tend to have more copper in their bodies, and subsequently more problems with copper imbalance than men. Additionally, this is why the oral contraceptive pill contributes to higher copper levels – the synthetic estrogens raise copper. Also good to know – low copper is associated with low estrogen.
Copper is an antagonist for zinc, meaning they compete for absorption. Adequate zinc supports ovulation and raises progesterone, so when copper is too high compared to zinc, we tend to run into problems with ovulation, which will lower progesterone and lead to menstrual cycle and fertility abnormalities. Excess copper also impairs thyroid function, which further impacts our menstrual cycle and fertility.
Increased estrogen, lower progesterone and lowered thyroid function are the reasons I think copper IUD’s make periods heavier and more painful.
Finally, adrenal function dictates how much copper is circulating at any given time. This is because the adrenals tell the liver to produce ceruloplasmin, the principal copper binding agent in the body. When the adrenals are chronically overloaded, their message to the liver is interrupted and we produce less of the copper binding agent – and copper levels go up! So, as per usual, you gotta step up your stress management game 🙂
Keep in mind that we are all physiologically different, so a copper IUD might be fine in one person and not in another. I say this all the time – conventional medicine’s biggest flaw is their blanket approach to our health. Each of us have different genes, diets, stress, gut health etc, and we can’t expect something to work the same for everyone across the board.
I read some interesting research by Dr. Lawrence Wilson about fast oxidizers vs slow oxidizers – fast oxidizers need more copper, and slow oxidizers need less copper. It’s way too involved for this post, but you can check it out here.
Copper excess/zinc deficiency results in a fair amount of physical and emotional symptoms
Severe anxiety and panic attacks, depression, ADHD, acne (caused by lowered zinc in relation to copper), eczema, psoriasis, hair loss, anemia, increased anger and rage, brain fog, spaciness, paranoia, fatigue (like tired all the time), low libido in women and men, estrogen dominance, PMS, and postpartum depression to name a few.
These symptoms tend to happen most often in the presence of zinc deficiency, because as I just said, these two trace elements compete with each other for absorption. In other words, copper and zinc balance each other out, so an excess of one or the other can cause issues.
Are you on the copper IUD and experiencing any of these symptoms? If so it might make sense to have your copper levels tested. Well, really you should have a complete mineral test done, and if your copper/zinc ratio is off, talk to your doctor about another birth control option.
What I’ve heard from women who have used an IUD
I want to reiterate that everyone should choose whatever birth control feels best for them. While I don’t have an issue with the copper IUD necessarily, and think it definitely works for plenty of women, I can’t ignore what people have said to me. And you can’t afford to either.
These are just a few of MANY positive and negative opinions in my Facebook group.
Ultimately, I don’t really recommend IUD’s because in my opinion it’s unnecessary to have a foreign object inserted into our uterus to protect us from the 2 days a month we are actually fertile.
At the same time, I also believe that everyone has different needs and circumstances and we should make the decision about our birth control that feels right to each of us. So do your research, speak to your doctor and always go with your gut.
I personally prefer the fertility awareness method using a basal thermometer and an app like Kindara, or the Daysy Fertility Monitor. These methods ensure that you have complete control over your menstrual cycle and fertility, rather than depending on a device that needs to be inserted and removed by a doctor. Again, just my opinion! You do you!
I highly recommend the educational books The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson Jack, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, and Honoring Our Cycles by Katie Singer so you can learn about your own fertility and menstrual cycle patterns.
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Information in this post and on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. The information is a result of practice experience and research by the author. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.
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Books and websites to check out:
Sweetening the Pill by Holly Grigg Spall
The AntiAnxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott
https://liveto110.com/copper-toxicity-syndrome/ – Wendy Myers talks extensively about mineral deficiencies and copper toxicity
http://www.drlwilson.com/articles/copper_toxicity_syndrome.htm#IMPSYMPTOMS – Dr. Lawrence Wilson explains the effects of copper on the female reproductive system
Period Party podcast episodes on the topic: