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OBJECTIVE--To determine the relative efficacy in general practice of dietary advice given by a dietitian, a practice nurse, or a diet leaflet alone in reducing total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration. DESIGN--Randomised six month parallel trial. SETTING--A general practice in Oxfordshire. SUBJECTS--2004 subjects aged 35-64 years were screened for hypercholesterolaemia; 163 men and 146 women with a repeat total cholesterol concentration of 6.0-8.5 mmol/l entered the trial. INTERVENTIONS--Individual advice provided by a dietitian using a diet history, a practice nurse using a structured food frequency questionnaire, or a detailed diet leaflet sent by post. All three groups were advised to limit the energy provided by fat to 30% or less and to increase carbohydrate and dietary fibre. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Concentrations of total cholesterol and low density and high density lipoprotein cholesterol after six months; antioxidant concentration and body mass index. RESULTS--No significant differences were found at the end of the trial between groups in mean concentrations of lipids, lipoproteins, and antioxidants or body mass index. After data were pooled from the three groups, the mean total cholesterol concentration fell by 1.9% (0.13 mmol/l, 95% confidence interval 0.06 to 0.22, P < 0.001) to 7.00 mmol/l, and low density lipoprotein cholesterol also fell. The total carotenoid concentration increased by 53 nmol/l (95% confidence interval 3.0 to 103, P = 0.039). CONCLUSIONS--Dietary advice is equally effective when given by a dietitian, a practice nurse, or a diet leaflet alone but results in only a small reduction in total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. To obtain a better response more intensive intervention than is normally available in primary care is probably necessary.