My Tiny Study Finds No Effect For Ketone Esters as a Nootropic

Several months ago I announced an RCT  I was running for a client to test ketone esters as a nootropic. After many more months than planned (pro-tip: do not create a study that depends on people with ADHD following a finicky multi-step process, and if you must, make your ops perfect) I failed to find an effect of ketone esters on productivity. It was a small study and a lot went wrong so this failure isn’t conclusive, but since I expected to find an enormous effect size, I’m still pretty disappointed. 

I originally intended to write up detailed results and a post-mortem on experimental operations. I’m unfortunately pressed for time right now, and can’t work up the motivation to detail exactly how little effect ketone esters had. If you’re considering running your own experiment and want the details, please reach out here or over email; I’m happy to share if it will be useful, but I didn’t want to delay publishing over details that probably don’t matter. However, you can see the experimental protocol in detail here. If you check, the hash of that file matches the hash in the recruitment doc.

The overall outcome: if you compare the average productivity for control and treatment days per person, and then average the per person difference together, that average is -0.2 (scale of 1-10), meaning treatment made people slightly worse on average. If you include only people who completed more than 10 of the planned 14 observations (4 out of 7), the average improvement is 0.3 (same 1-10 scale). The largest improvement for any one person was 1.1. I didn’t bother to check for statistical significance because even if it eked out a p-value, the real-world significance is too small.  

This result is confusing, because ketone esters obviously work really well for me, and a few other people I know. That could be a placebo, but the effects are so strong and consistent that that seems unlikely. It’s possible there was an experimental error – our operations were really not what they needed to be for a study of anyone, much less people specifically selected for having difficulties with organization – but even if I squint at the data I can’t see the kinds of patterns that might hint at that. Or the design could have been flawed; I was trading off ideal circumstances and ease of use for volume of participants. 

Given these results, I intend to keep taking ketone esters when they feel helpful to me, but can’t recommend them as in any way vindicated for mass use as a nootropic. 

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