One of the most important things I do here is share information that empowers women to make the best choices for their bodies and lives. After looking at ALL THE OPTIONS for contraception recently, as well as this more detailed look at the IUD, right here and now I want to dig a little deeper into the copper IUD/IUB.
So what are these devices? The copper In-Uterine Device or Balls are small devices made of copper and plastic that are placed inside the uterus. The copper in these devices works in a handful of ways to prevent pregnancy:
- Copper thins the uterine lining and prevents it from thickening, leaving nothing for an embryo to implant in.
- Inhibits sperm mobility, meaning the sperm aren’t able to move correctly or into the right place to facilitate conception or implantation, and
- Prevents the egg and sperm from meeting and the sperm from fertilising.
As a contraceptive, it’s very effective – its perfect use rating is comparable to the contraceptive pill, at over 99% efficacy. Their lack of a need for human input means there’s no ‘typical use’ rating, so their pregnancy prevention ability won’t be interfered with – a huge plus.
On top of that, there are a handful of other benefits. If you’re not the kind of person who is great with remembering to do something every day (like take your temperature or a pill), an IUD/B can be great as they last for 5-10 years. Being able to leave something alone for such a long time as a contraceptive is a good option if you do not plan on having any more children. Also, unlike oral pills, the device is positioned locally and is hormone free, helping some women avoid the side effects of the oral contraceptive pills. Most impressively (and important for overall health) – the copper IUD doesn’t always prevent ovulation, allowing your body to continue making those all important hormones. I say ‘doesn’t always’ because we all have uniquely beautiful bodies. Some women ovulate with these devices fitted and others don’t. It really does depend on you.
Fertility awareness based methods are sometimes inappropriate for women where they’re not in relationships where they have the complete respect of their partner, as it does involve their partner’s input. As much as it pains me thinking about women in uncomfortable or dangerous situations, this is the reality for women around the country and the world. One of the benefits of an inserted device is that it provides constant protection from pregnancy that is much less susceptible to interference from others.
Many girls and women find this is the least problematic contraceptive option, and really works for their bodies and lives. Here, you can read a collection of patient experiences. As you can see, there’s actually lots to like with this medical contraceptive.
Of course, much like we learned in science class at school (and I’m paraphrasing here) – everything has an opposite. There are a handful of known reasons pharmaceutical companies have identified that make copper IUD/B a risky option. These include it not being suitable for pregnant women (duh!), those with Wilson’s Disease (a condition in which the body is unable to process excess copper, and can result in serious liver and neurological symptoms), have a history of uterine infections of allergies to ingredients in the device, or have some cancer diagnoses. Some women find they bleed more with any intrauterine device too. Copper can also severely play havoc with your zinc levels, it’s important that if you were to consider using the copper implant/s that you consider supplementing accordingly.
Some women report heavier and more painful periods due to the increase in prostaglandins which increase inflammation during your period. For many women this symptom is said to dissipate after 3 – 6 months of having the IUD implanted, for some it can last the life of the IUD.
Hopefully it is obvious to you too, but a copper IUD/B will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. If you are having sex with someone who hasn’t been recently checked for STDs, please also use a barrier, always.
If you’re experiencing hormone issues like heavy menstrual bleeding while considering your contraceptive options, I would strongly encourage you to ensure the underlying cause is known and being directly addressed prior to considering treatment options. The last thing any woman with heavy bleeding wants is more bleeding with an IUD! Whether you seek help from practitioners like my team at The Pagoda Tree or with your GYN, getting a correct diagnosis is incredibly important so you can ensure your underlying condition is directly treated and you can support your health. Simply “turning off” your periods does not treat an underlying reproductive system condition.
Another side effect that is commonly recognised is ejection or perforation of the devices from the uterus. As you can imagine, this can be incredibly painful for women who experience it. My heart goes out to you if you’ve experienced a perforation. The IUB (with the coiled balls rather than firm device) is thought to have a lower risk of perforation as it is more flexible and fits into a 3 dimensional shape in the uterus. Take a look at the video at the bottom of this page to see how it sits in the uterus. It certainly looks much less scary than a long pointy device, eh!
Even without Wilson’s Disease, women can experience the symptoms of copper overload. These IUD side effects are the ones that are often not recognised or known by doctors, but I hear regularly from readers and patients. If you are more sensitive to having additional copper in your body, using a copper IUD/B isn’t something I would recommend. Despite the physical location of the devices being fixed, the symptoms of copper overload can be systemic and varied – everything from mental and emotional side effects, to neurological symptoms, bleeding, pain and insomnia. This post from Vienda Maria details her difficulties with copper overload.
Should you decide that the copper implants are your contraception of choice, it may be useful (as mentioned) to increase zinc via supplementation or including foods such as asparagus, turmeric and dandelion, the later especially useful also for liver detoxification which can also play a large role in keeping your hormones happy and healthy, especially where there may be factors like rising copper to consider.
Now, for the big question – would I recommend the IUD/B? As far as contraceptives are concerned, sympto-thermal fertility awareness methods are the gold standard, as they are incredibly effective with none of the side effects found in medical options. However as I have shared above, I’m not completely opposed to the copper IUD as it may provide a good option for women who wish to avoid synthetic hormones. Putting something foreign inside your body for a decade at a time is a big decision though, so I strongly encourage everyone to do extensive research. I’ve mentioned this when discussing IUDs before, but from a TCM perspective, anything that physically interferes with your menstrual flow can be questionable to your overall health, too. Myself and the other practitioners at The Pagoda Tree would love to assist you in ensuring you have been educated on all your contraceptive and health treatment options.
Want to talk more about contraception and your hormones. Come join in all the fun in my membership, The Wellness Collective. We get together and work through women’s issues, together!