Updated: Oct 25, 2022
I have been working with more and more clients who’ve been using IUDs as contraceptives and I wanted to provide more details on how they impact our health and hormone balance. So there are 2 different forms of IUD: the copper IUD and the hormonal IUD. Let’s have a look at both in more detail:
How does the copper IUD work?
It creates an inflammatory response in the uterus, which impairs implantation of a fertilized egg. I’m sorry, but I already don’t like the sound of this…
The copper is toxic to sperm and impairs its motility which is another reason why it’s used for birth control.
It seems though that localized inflammation in the uterus and cervix isn’t necessarily a problem, it depends on the individual. If it is an issue though, it causes severe period pain.
What are the side effects of the copper IUD?
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.
Increased period pain: heavy cramping
Excessive bleeding and spotting for up to ten days leading up to a period, menstrual blood clots and very long periods are very common too.
Bacterial disruption – when an IUD is placed in the uterus, there are strings that hang down through the cervix into the vaginal canal. This can create microbial imbalance and increase the risk of vaginal infections since strings of the IUD are connecting the 2 different environments.
Excess copper & copper toxicity - 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 (low copper has been linked to miscarriages on the other hand).
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. This is why the oral contraceptive pill contributes to higher copper levels – the synthetic estrogens raise copper.
Adrenal & liver health play a big role here too, because your adrenal glands influence how much copper-binding agent is produced in your liver - so when both are preoccupied with more important stuff, there is not enough copper binding agent and your copper levels increase.
Copper will impair zinc absorption. As you might know, adequate zinc levels are essential for ovulation and hence progesterone levels, so when copper is too high compared to zinc, it will have a negative impact on ovulation, which will lower progesterone and lead to abnormalities with your menstrual cycle and fertility. Excess copper also impairs thyroid function, which further impacts your menstrual cycle and fertility, but also your metabolism. Copper and zinc are opposites: if one is too high, it will impact the other. They compete for absorption, so if you have too much copper, you will lack zinc (or need extra zinc). Elevated copper has been linked with anxiety disorders and chronic zinc deficiency to depression. Other symptoms (more short term) are skin disorders like dermatitis, loss of taste or smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, irritability, hairloss, grey hair.
Another option is the hormonal IUD - let’s have a look at how it works:
A hormonal IUD prevents pregnancy by daily releasing Levonorgestrel, which is a synthetic form of progesterone. The hormonal IUDs can last up to 7 years.
How do they work?
The progestin or levonorgestrel thins your uterine lining so that a fertilized egg cannot implant. This is also why you’ll get lighter to no periods.
Progestin can also thicken cervical fluid, which makes it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg.
Depending on which brand you are using, ovulation is impacted, meaning you will not ovulate. Some brands claim that ovulation can return after the first year or so when the concentration of hormone wears off. Other brands claim that they don’t impact ovulation although reality shows that hormonal IUDs definitely interfere with ovulation and your regular menstrual cycle. It seems that the majority of women on the Mirena IUD stop ovulating and/or lose their periods which appears to go against what the studies say.
The side effects of the Mirena IUD are much like the side effects you’ll experience with oral contraceptive pills:
The insertion is a painful experience for most women, which can be followed by severe cramping and bleeding for the first couple of months, while others stop having their period.
Some of the common side effects may include:
Pelvic pain (if ongoing, it could be a sign of perforation)
Skin issues (acne or breakout prone skin)
Long, heavy periods after it’s first inserted for some women
Loss of period for others
Vaginal microbiome disruption which causes yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis
Nutrient depletion (same as oral contraceptives, a hormonal IUD is depriving your body of B-Vitamins, Magnesium and Zinc)
Digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation
Ovulation disruption which can lower sex drive and cause vaginal dryness
Both options are not ideal in my opinion, but what options do we have for natural birth control?
The most natural solution is avoiding sex on days around ovulation or making sure to use condoms on these days.
Another option could be taking natural progesterone….What’s the difference?
Ever heard of bioidentical hormones?
You know I always prefer everything natural haha: and with hormones this is no different!
There actually are (even pharmaceutical) natural hormone products that you can use especially towards the end of perimenopause and in menopause to keep up your progesterone (or even estrogen) levels. But you could also take progesterone throughout your cycle to avoid pregnancy.
The natural form of progesterone is simply called progesterone. The synthetic form of progesterone is called progestin (and there are different forms and names like Levonorgestrel which is used in the Mirena IUD).
Why I do not recommend synthetic hormones
Although the names of these two hormones sound very similar, they are not the same. The main thing to remember is that progesterone is produced naturally by your body, and progestin is synthetic.
Even though progestin can cause similar responses in your body, it also carries a higher risk of negative side effects.
Progestins are synthetic versions of progesterone found in contraceptives. Progestin is actually more structurally similar to testosterone than progesterone.
This is why synthetic hormones have more side effects (see symptom list above).
The best form of progesterone is of course the one created by your body. If you and your practitioner have determined that supplementing with progesterone is the right choice for you, you want to make sure it is all-natural. Natural progesterone for supplements is derived from soybeans, cactus and yam roots.
This natural progesterone has the same chemical structure as the progesterone created by your body, that’s why it’s called bio-identical.
As I’ve explained before, our progesterone production naturally declines with age. This is what happens in perimenopause. But our progesterone production can also be impacted by elevated stress levels, gut dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria in our gut) and other factors before perimenopause. In any case, it’s always best to support ideal hormone production by eliminating stressors and hormone disruptors and nourishing your body (and hormonal glands) with a whole foods and nutrient-dense diet. Go back to my article on how to naturally boost your progesterone levels here.
Contact me if you would like help with managing your hormones.