The Uterus’s Fight: My Findings on the Copper IUD

Mathilde Langevin
Apr 17, 2020 · 8 min read

“Some people have side effects after getting their IUD. They usually go away in about 3–6 months, once your body gets used to the visitor in your uterus. So if you can stick it out for a few months, there’s a good chance the side effects will ease up.”

-Planned Parenthood

“The visitor”. “If you can stick it out”. “A good chance”.

Does this quote reassure you?

In hopes of finding an accommodating alternative to hormonal birth control, millions of women — including myself — have turned to the copper IUD, known for having no subsequent side effects besides pain and cramping following insertion.

A copper wire coiled around a plastic “T” is inserted into the uterus and produces an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to sperm and eggs, preventing pregnancy.

The hidden truth is, because of simplified previous research and the fact that we have no longitudinal nor cross-section data to back up any of these medical claims, little is known about how side effects might change over time. So sure, IUD side effects can ease up — but they can also worsen and cause ravaging effects, and we don’t know.

So what other information is hidden from us?

The relationship between estrogen and copper

By consequence, having a copper IUD inside of your uterus — despite it being a non-hormonal method — still affects your hormones. There, I said it.

Elevated copper levels do not necessarily translate into symptoms upon IUD insertion, but rather over time: several women have reported that while the initial painful side effects of cramping decrease over time, a multitude of other symptoms appear out of the blue.

Why?

Copper & estrogen are intricately related. Copper is heavy metal required only in small amounts in the body while estrogen, in case you weren’t aware, is the primary female sex hormone and regulator of the female reproductive system. Estrogen is required to be in intricate balance within the body for optional functioning, as a lack or excess of has multiple health consequences.

Put simply, excess copper in the body also increases estrogen in the body.

The more estrogen created, the harder it is for the liver and adrenals to detox the copper as the latter “clings” to the estrogen molecules — creating a kind of never-ending feedback loop. Having an excess of copper in the body has been linked to being one of the key underlying drivers of anxiety, estrogen dominance, dysmenorrhoea (painful periods), menorrhagia (heavy periods), irregular periods, mental health issues, and overall hormonal imbalances — in both men and women.

Copper, Mineral Deficiency and Aggravated PMS

Minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and B6 are nutrients that help reduce PMS symptoms and are also essential for serotonin production (known as our happiness hormone). All three have been shown to diminish when copper levels rise in the body. Studies have also clearly demonstrated that zinc deficiency resulting from increased copper occurs during the luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle — when PMS symptoms occur.

Copper also increases sodium retention, which aggravates PMS symptoms and bloating. This would explain why several women on the copper IUD report weight gain and month-long bloating after a few weeks of insertion.

As estrogen rises during the premenstrual cycle (PMS) or during pregnancy, copper rises. Many of the emotional symptoms of PMS are also copper-induced and further aggravated as estrogen fluctuates during the cycle. Estrogen will rise until ovulation, at which point progesterone will take over as the dominant hormone and assist in bringing the estrogen levels down. However, when a woman is estrogen dominant (low progesterone) or has high copper levels in her body, the cycle’s natural build-up of estrogen will lead to an even further increase of copper (and decrease in zinc), along with its correlated emotional symptoms.

On that note, consider another scenario: hormonal changes during pregnancy cause estrogen to increase dramatically, nearly doubling levels of copper retention. Postpartum, if the mother is not able to detox her copper load (either naturally through her liver or through breast-feeding) much of her elevated copper level will remain stored in her body — a direct contributor to postpartum depression and anxiety.

Following below are the most common symptoms of copper-induced estrogen dominance, sorted by category:

Physical*

  • Cramping, heavy bleeding, clotting during menses
  • Fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • PCOS
  • Breast tenderness
  • Heavy, uncomfortable bloating (sodium retention)
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Osteoporosis
  • PMS
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fatigue and exhaustion due to adrenal depletion
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss and/or whitening of hair
  • Acne and eczema
  • Loss of sex drive (heightened during ovulation)
  • Anemia and iron-deficiency
  • Sweet cravings (particularly chocolate, known to be high in both iron and…copper)
  • Allergies and mold sensitivity
  • Lowered immunity
  • Insomnia*
  • Increased PMS
  • Constipation
  • Infertility
  • Hypoglycemia
  • ​Headaches
  • Reduced metabolism
  • Candida overload/yeast infections
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • In extreme cases: drug resistance and potential various cancers such as breast cancer

Psychological*

  • Mood swings
  • Depression (or symptoms of)
  • A racing mind (“wired but tired”)
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Brain fog/lack of concentration and memory problems
  • Irritability
  • OCD and Relationship OCD (ROCD)
  • Emotional numbing/apathy/despondence
  • Ruminating negative thoughts
  • Personality change
  • In extreme cases: pseudo bipolar disorder, mild schizophrenia due to misperception of self or others

*Information cited from Fischer, R. (2014–2020). https://coppertoxic.com/

“Copper is known as the ‘emotional mineral’. It affects your energy levels, mood, reproductive system — particularly in women — libido, immunity, and thyroid and adrenal glands”.

Dr. Lawrence Wilson is a US-based nutritionist who’s been treating and writing about copper imbalances for more than 30 years.

Vegetarianism/Vegan Diets and Copper Overload

The vegetarian/vegan diets) will put one at a higher risk of accumulating excess copper. This will depend on how long one has been following a plant-based diet, the effectiveness of their detox pathways, their life stressors, and the presence of extra sources of copper in their lives — such as the birth control pill or the copper coil IUD. Almost across the board, through HTMA data looking at the tissue level of copper, scientists can note that copper toxicity patterns are typical in the long-term vegan/vegetarian person.

Broken down simply:

  • Zinc is required to keep copper in check; without enough zinc, copper will accumulate.
  • The more absorbable amounts of zinc are found in meats. Without this zinc, excess copper builds up in tissues and interferes primarily with the liver and digestive system. Remember, it’s not about how many milligrams of zinc or potassium one eats, but how much is absorbed. Vegans and vegetarians often require extra zinc supplementation.
  • When the body is under stress or suffering from adrenal weakness (often ensued by the body’s attempt to rid excess estrogen), the zinc level can drop even further — allowing more copper to accumulate.
  • Copper levels are tested through tissues and hair strand tests for the best results. Blood work greatly undermines actual results and does not draw accurate levels. HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) is a safe and non-invasive test that measures the levels and comparative ratios of nutrient and toxic minerals found in hair.

Recommended Daily Allowance

The RDA of copper for women is 1.2mg per day, which is what we approximately consume through a balanced diet. However, the average copper IUD contains an exposable surface of 0.38 mg of copper, which is approximately already 1/3 of the copper I’d need per day, without having consumed any food or water.

If one day, I ate only 4 squares of dark chocolate while wearing my IUD, I’d already have consumed my copper RDA for the day. Not to mention that depending on your municipality and home piping, excess copper may be found in your tap water.

Paraguard, the only copper IUD available in the USA (also currently facing multiple lawsuits), contains 176 mg of coiled copper wire along the vertical stem and 68.7 mg on each side of the horizontal arms. While their website claims only 0.38 of this copper is exposed to the uterus lining, it must be understood that there is still a whooping 313.4mg of copper hanging out in your uterus, 24/7.

Final Word

I joined a Facebook group last week where over 3500 women have been sharing their difficulties with the copper IUD, including before and after photos of their excessive bloat and breakouts, testifying their mood swings, listing gastrointestinal symptoms and much more.

I listed my symptoms in a post (many are listed in the bullet points above) and it took about 5 seconds before a flow of messages and comments came my way, confirming that I am not crazy: I am most likely experiencing the effects of copper overload.

At this point, the first two words that come to mind are angry and exhausted. I feel at a loss with my birth control, as if I am fighting against something that cannot beat. Unable to find a method that doesn’t leave me riddled with side effects, I am also upset that I was led to believe I should not be experiencing side effects with my copper Mona Lisa IUD — when I keep getting these signals from my body that something is definitely up.

In conclusion, I’d like to make the point of specifying that loads of research confirm the safety of all current market-approved birth control methods, including the hormonal and copper IUD.

My goal here is not to argue falsification of those cases; my goal is to remind you that medical practitioners are instructed to tell you that the copper IUD has no hormonal side effects, which I have now come to understand as a flat out lie. Without my diligence, without paying attention to my body’s signals, and without having the head on my shoulders to conduct my own valid research, I would never have gotten the answer I need.

I simply want to advocate for our right to have informed choices and receiving full disclosure — not just a shrug and a “that’s not possible, the copper IUD has no hormonal side effects”, even when all my signs and symptoms point to hormonal imbalance.

I remind you, everyone reacts differently. I remind you that I am not suggesting anyone diet nor any form of supplement over another as it is not my area of expertise. Most of all, I remind you that awareness of potential pitfalls is what will help us avoid them down the road, and it is our duty to speak out.

With awareness, intelligent supplementation, adequate research, and awareness of the truth––the risk of copper toxicity can be reduced.

Author’s notes:

  • I am in no means a medical professional. Please do not substitute my research as advice from your general practitioner.
  • The use of the term “woman” in the text above is used with the intention of englobing all persons of the female gender.

Resources:

Fischer, R. (2014–2020). https://coppertoxic.com/

Hubacher, D., Chen, P. L., & Park, S. (2009). Side effects from the copper IUD: do they decrease over time?. Contraception, 79(5), 356–362. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.contraception.2008.11.012

Including all embedded resources within the text.

Musings by M

Sharing my thoughts, my tops, my tips, and my stories — while inspiring you to cultivate yours.

Musings by M

A portal to discuss with the world and an open space for stories, poems, opinions, questions, and much more. For collaborations, always feel free to contact hello@mathilde.ca.

Mathilde Langevin

Written by

Calm-conscious minimalist seeking balance through a simple & mindful life. I write about all things wellness for lifestyle brands + creatives. hello@mathilde.ca

Musings by M

A portal to discuss with the world and an open space for stories, poems, opinions, questions, and much more. For collaborations, always feel free to contact hello@mathilde.ca.