Get to Know our Scientists – Dr. Kara Marlatt

Menopause is an unavoidable stage in every woman’s life, yet the research done on this topic has mostly focused on treating the consequences of menopause after they already happen rather than finding ways to limit (or avoid) them all together before menopause even occurs. More than ever, women need help during their menopause transition to better manage their changing frustrations and health. That’s where Dr. Kara Marlatt comes in.

Dr. Marlatt, a Wisconsin native, came to LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in 2015 with the hopes of making a difference.

Her original undergraduate degree was in economic policy and finance, but after entering the workforce, she didn’t feel she was making a difference. “I went back to school because I wanted a job that would allow me to learn something new every day and contribute to society,” she said.

She returned to school and focused on cardiovascular disease physiology, graduating from the University of Minnesota with a master’s degree in Public Health and Epidemiology as well as a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology.

After graduation, she made a list of over 100 research scientists from around the world that she most wanted to work with. As it turns out, her number one choice was Pennington Biomedical’s Dr. Eric Ravussin.

“I emailed the top 5 people on my list, but I assumed they were busy and did not expect to hear from anyone quickly. I was shocked when Dr. Ravussin responded to me within an hour,” said Marlatt. “He was definitely busy but is a very dedicated and responsive scientist who had a genuine interest in my scientific interests. It was the perfect combination.”

Soon after becoming one of Dr. Ravussin’s postdoctoral scientists, Marlatt found her passion studying the role of dietary and exercise interventions to facilitate healthy aging and metabolic health as it relates to women, particularly in the transition through menopause.

Menopause creates so much more than just mood swings and hot flashes. This transitional phase for women creates stubborn weight gain and the predisposition for diabetes, even for women who have been healthy their entire lives. And with the average life expectancy increasing every year, more women will live with these major life changes longer and with very few quality resources to educate themselves on how to cope.

Dr. Marlatt knows that waiting until after a woman has fully transitioned through menopause before intervening puts women at a great disadvantage. “There are all these things happening to women leading up to menopause that women really don’t know about, until they’re in the middle of it,” said Dr. Marlatt. “In the years leading up to menopause, body fat tends to shift to a woman’s abdomen which is not good for their overall health. There is a specific window of time when this happens.”

Marlatt believes that it is this period in which women need to be better educated on what is happening to their own bodies. Through her research and findings, she wants to give them the tools to help manage their weight, and other side effects that reduce their quality of life. Since every woman is different, her hope is to develop more individualized solutions for women so that she has a healthier transition through menopause.

In this way, Dr. Marlatt hopes to contribute to society and to make a substantial difference to future generations of women.