We investigated the effect of an aqueous extract of Withania somnifera (WS) on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) rats. NIDDM was induced by single intraperitoneal injection of streptozotocin (100 mg/kg) to 2 days old rat pups. WS (200 and 400 mg/kg) was administered orally once a day for 5 weeks after the animals were confirmed diabetic (i.e. 75 days after streptozotocin injection). A group of citrate control rats (group I) were also maintained that has received citrate buffer on the second day of their birth. A significant increase in blood glucose, glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA(1)c) and serum insulin levels were observed in NIDDM control rats. Treatment with WS reduced the elevated levels of blood glucose, HbA(1)c and insulin in the NIDDM rats. An oral glucose tolerance test was also performed in the same groups, in which we found a significant improvement in glucose tolerance in the rats treated with WS. The insulin sensitivity was assessed for both peripheral insulin resistance and hepatic insulin resistance. WS treatment significantly improved insulin sensitivity index (K(ITT)) that was significantly decreased in NIDDM control rats. There was significant rise in homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-R) in NIDDM control rats whereas WS treatment significantly prevented the rise in HOMA-R in NIDDM-treated rats. Our data suggest that aqueous extract of WS normalizes hyperglycemia in NIDDM rats by improving insulin sensitivity.