During the last century, the leading causes of death in industrialized countries gradually shifted from infectious diseases to chronic diseases of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and cancer. In addition to advancing age, these conditions are greatly influenced by life habits and the environment. As a result, many people have begun to consider healing practices from other philosophies and cultures as alternatives and complements to conventional Western medicine. Some of these philosophies include osteopathy, naturopathy, homeopathy, and chiropractic. Techniques of acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, and meditation may also be used, as well as herbal remedies (see Chapter 8) and nutritional counseling on diet, vitamins, and minerals.
With complementary and alternative therapies, emphasis is placed on maintaining health rather than treating disease and on allowing the body opportunity to heal itself. The U.S. government has established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study these therapies.
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