Commonly known as Paneer dodi, the herb Withania coagulans has been used in traditional Indian medicine for many years now – among other things, it is claimed to help control diabetes. A new study shows that it indeed may do so, particularly when it's ingested within special capsules.

Led by Assoc. Prof. Say Chye Joachim Loo, scientists at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University started by extracting plant steroid compounds from W. coagulans berries. When tested in the lab, those compounds were found to increase insulin secretion by mouse pancreatic cells in a dish.

Unfortunately, however, the berries are very bitter – this makes it quite difficult to consume a sufficiently-sized dose of an extract obtained from them. Additionally, even if someone were able to eat or drink enough of that extract, much of its medicinal content would likely be destroyed by their stomach acid.

With that in mind, the researchers encapsulated their W. coagulans steroids within nanoparticles made of chitosan, which is a natural substance derived from shellfish exoskeletons. Those particles were in turn coated in a food-based starch, making them better able to withstand acidic conditions. This was done so that they could pass through the stomach, not dissolving and releasing the steroids until reaching the small intestine.

After the nanoparticles had been fed to diabetic mice over a period of five days, the animals' blood glucose levels were found to have dropped by about 40 percent – presumably due to the rodents' increased production of insulin. A further five days after the treatment period ended, that number increased to 60 percent, suggesting the particles' gradual-release mechanism was still having an effect.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Omega.