The Chemistry of Curcumin, the Health Promoting Ingredient in Turmeric

By Dewprashad, Brahmadeo | Journal of College Science Teaching, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

The Chemistry of Curcumin, the Health Promoting Ingredient in Turmeric


Dewprashad, Brahmadeo, Journal of College Science Teaching


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Case studies pertaining to the health benefits of foods can be particularly effective in engaging students and in teaching core concepts in science (Heidemann and Urquart 2005). This case study focuses on the chemistry of curcumin, the health-promoting ingredient in turmeric. The case was developed to review core concepts in organic chemistry and to provide students with an opportunity to apply these concepts to a problem that they could relate to. The case could be adapted and used in courses in biochemistry and food science classes for the same purposes, because the chemical concepts covered in the case are ones also covered in these courses.

The case is in the form of a dialogue between a couple, Leroy and Mona, about the surprising change in color observed in the soup Mona has made for their dinner. Mona explains that she added turmeric to the soup because of its purported health benefits. Leroy wonders whether she had indeed added turmeric, as the color of the soup is not the characteristic yellow color of turmeric, but an orange color more characteristic of saffron. Mona explains that the color of the soup changed from yellow to orange after she added baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to it, in an attempt to speed up the cooking process. Students read the case and then answer the questions associated with it, which lead them to review and apply several concepts covered in organic chemistry.

Objectives

In completing this case, students learn/review the following concepts in organic chemistry:

* keto-enol tautomerization,

* resonance theory,

* antioxidant chemistry,

* organic acids and bases,

* pH-dependent hydrolysis of esters and ionization of carboxylate group, and

* metal chelation.

In addition, the case helps students connect these fundamental concepts in organic chemistry to applications in biomedicine and food science.

Classroom management

This case was posted on the course website at the beginning of the semester and students were alerted that they would be undertaking the case on a specific date later in the semester. Students were instructed to read the case and begin working on it individually before the case study date. This advance work on the part of students is necessary in order to cover the case in the allotted time in class. In addition, students were given the opportunity to meet with the instructor before the case study date and discuss aspects of the case that they wanted clarified.

The case study was run after fundamental concepts, such as keto-enol tautomerization, resonance theory, acid-base reactions, and the identification of functional groups, were covered in lectures. The case was taught in a one-hour class period in a computer lab in which each student had access to a computer with high-speed internet access and multimedia player. Students were assigned to work in groups of five or six and asked to elect a team member to moderate the discussions. Groups were chosen such that each group had students with a diverse range of demonstrated subject knowledge. The latter was determined by reviewing the cumulative scores students had earned on exams, labs, quizzes, and homework assignments so far. Each group was asked to complete the case within the hour period, and it was suggested that each member of the team be assigned specific tasks. The instructor worked with each of the groups, participating in their discussions as needed to direct the students to questions they needed to ask themselves in order to come up with the correct solutions. Each student was then required to write up an individual solution to the case and submit it for grading at the next class meeting.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The topic of the case (turmeric and its health benefits) had been in the news recently and students were intrigued by it. As such, the case generated a great deal of discussion as well as many questions. …

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