The Docs: What about astraphobia and anxiety?


Q: My sister has always been quite fearful of thunder and lightning. During a lightning storm, she thinks the lightning is looking for her so she ducks into the basement to hide. She’s married with a young child now. Is there anything we can do? -- Brooke F., Chicago

A: It sounds like your sister has an anxiety disorder called astraphobia (“astrape” is Greek for “lightning,” and “phobos” is Greek for “fear”). Yes, there are effective cognitive behavioral treatments that can help her get over her condition. The process going forward is to have her talk to a trained therapist and find out more about her fears.

Kids with autism and people who have heightened sensory processing issues tend to develop astraphobia more frequently than people in the general population. But those who have experienced, or seen others experience, real danger in lightning storms can develop it too. Either way, it’s important for your sister and anyone with the phobia to get professional counseling to reduce anxiety.

A good therapist might suggest keeping an anxiety journal and then reviewing it after a storm or storms pass through the area. He or she might also suggest your sister turn off her weather app and try mindful meditation.

The next part of the therapeutic process is a bit more complicated and must be implemented with guidance on a case-by-case basis. It involves learning to replace anxiety-driven, negative thoughts with fact- and evidence-based, positive thoughts. She can, for example, learn that her chances of getting hit by lightning inside her home are about zero, unless she is in contact with a land-line telephone or metal plumbing and then only if and when lightning strikes her house. For anyone, the chance of getting hit by lightning anytime this year, even at a picnic on a stormy day, is 700,000-to-1.

Don’t get us wrong, lightning is not something to take lightly, just think about what happened during a storm at the recent golf Players Championship in Atlanta. Heading indoors or to a car during a lightning storm are good precautions. But having an overblown anxiety response to lightning and thunder is something that can be successfully treated.

Q: I heard that taking calcium supplements is a waste of time because they aren’t absorbed well. Is that true? -- Matilda, Z., Clearwater, Florida

A: Your body needs calcium for strong teeth, proper blood clotting and heart, muscle and nerve health -- and, of course, strong bones. Unfortunately, only 50% to 60% of adults and 10% to 25% of adolescents in the U.S. get the recommended amount of calcium: 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg daily along with 600 IU of vitamin D daily. And your body will leach calcium out of your bones if you don’t have enough of it in your diet! That’s why it’s smart to get a blood test to check your blood level of the mineral, and a bone mineral density scan. Risk-free? Get a baseline scan at age 50 and again at age 65, then as your doctor recommends.

As for the issue of absorption, we bet you heard that as you get older you don’t absorb as much calcium as you used to. That’s true. Growing kids, and pregnant and nursing moms can absorb 60% of dietary calcium, but folks over 50 absorb only around 30%, decreasing to 15% at older ages.

In order to preserve strong bones as you get older, you should exercise regularly and make sure to eat calcium-rich foods. We recommend you get your dietary calcium from low- and no-fat dairy products fortified with extra calcium and vitamin D (check the labels). Non-dairy sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, collard and other dark-green, leafy vegetables; canned salmon or sardines; almonds; tofu processed with calcium; and calcium-fortified juices and cereals. Take supplements only on your doc’s recommendation; they have proven benefits and risks, which include heart attack, constipation, colorectal neoplasms and kidney stones.


(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign) Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.)