Purpose: Current guidelines of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommend initial dietary counseling by physicians for most patients with hypercholesterolemia; referral to a registered dietitian and lipid-lowering drugs are recommended only for patients who remain hypercholesterolemic. We evaluated the incremental value of detailed nutritional counseling by dietitians when added to general nutritional advice provided by physicians.
Subjects and methods: Hypercholesterolemic patients detected during a cholesterol screening project were randomly assigned to receive dietary counseling by a physician only (70 patients) or by a physician and a registered dietitian (66 patients). Patients were observed for 1 year to determine compliance with NCEP guidelines.
Results: At 3 months, the mean (+/- SD) decrease in the serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level was 7% +/- 11% in the physician group and 12% +/- 10% in the dietitian group (P <0.004). A decrease of 10% or more in the LDL cholesterol level was seen in 25 patients (36%) in the physician group and 43 patients (65%) in the dietitian group (P <0.001). Only 40 (29%) of the patients in both groups achieved their NCEP target goals at 3 months. The majority of these were low-risk patients with an LDL cholesterol target goal of 160 mg/dL. At 12 months, both groups lost about half of the beneficial effects on LDL cholesterol levels, and the difference between the two groups diminished.
Conclusions: The short-term reduction in LDL cholesterol level achieved after counseling by dietitians is superior to that achieved by physicians. However, long-term compliance remains inadequate. For patients at high risk, consideration should be given to a more aggressive dietary approach and possibly earlier introduction of lipid-lowering medications.