If you grew up conditioned to either consciously or subconsciously think of your period as something secretive or shameful—who among us has not scurried into a public restroom with a tampon up their sleeve?—you may throw your used tampon or pad into the trash or that little nameless bin without so much as a glance. But paying attention to the color and consistency of period blood can actually offer some helpful insights into your health and hormones.

The menstrual cycle is sometimes called the "fifth vital sign"—the other four vitals are body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate and blood pressure—by doctors, including those at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It's an important marker of health, and yet the period is often overlooked, sidelined into a taboo topic.

"Women typically know their flow. If color [or] consistency changes significantly, there could be an underlying cause," said Alyssa