Sankar Mohan (left) and Jayakanthan Kumarasamy with Kothala himbutu tea and a drinking vessel both made from Salacia reticulata, a plant used for centuries in Sri Lanka and India as an herbal remedy for diabetes.

Reunited duo roots out diabetes remedy

May 14, 2009

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By Melanie Monk

Two grad students from the same small town in southeast India who were serendipitously reunited at SFU have discovered a potential treatment for Type 2 diabetes literally rooted in their country’s ancient Ayurvedic medical traditions.

PhD student Sankar Mohan and postdoctoral fellow Jayakanthan Kumarasamy met as undergraduates in Thiruvannamalai, about 190 km southwest of Chennai (Calcutta) in Tamil Nadu state, but went their separate ways to pursue graduate studies.

They were reunited after each was independently invited to join VP-research Mario Pinto’s chemical biology lab, where they began working together to study the climbing shrub Salacia reticulata (Kothala himbutu in Sinhalese).

The shrub has been used since ancient times in Sri Lanka and India to treat diabetes. Patients typically drink a solution created from water left overnight in a cup made from the wood of the plant.

Japanese researchers found the solution strongly inhibited elevations in the blood glucose levels of rats and later isolated two active principal compounds from the root and assigned the structure of one of them, salacinol.

Building on previous studies by Pinto and his colleagues on the synthesis and biological activities of analogues of salacinol, Mohan and Kumarasamy are the first to establish the absolute stereochemical structure of two of the most active principles in Salacia reticulata, kotalanol and de-O-sulfonated kotalanol.

The pair was able to synthesize the compounds and compare them with those extracted from the plant. The compounds slow down the action of enzymes in the small intestine, called glycosidase, which are responsible for the degradation of carbohydrates into glucose, thus reducing glucose levels in the blood after a meal.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funded the initial study while the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is funding the current research.

The researchers’ findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and can be viewed online at


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Caution. There is a line of thought that the continued treatment in this form causes bone decay!

Beryle Chambers

Where can you buy this tea and the utensil to drink it from?

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