To increase transparency in research, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors required, in 2005, prospective registration of clinical trials as a condition to publication. However, many trials remain unregistered or retrospectively registered. We aimed to assess the association between trial prospective registration and treatment effect estimates. Methods This is a meta-epidemiological study based on all Cochrane reviews published between March 2011 and September 2014 with meta-analyses of a binary outcome including three or more randomised controlled trials published after 2006. We extracted trial general characteristics and results from the Cochrane reviews. For each trial, we searched for registration in the report’s full text, contacted the corresponding author if not reported and searched ClinicalTrials.gov and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform in case of no response. We classified each trial as prospectively registered (i.e. registered before the start date); retrospectively registered, distinguishing trials registered before and after the primary completion date; and not registered. Treatment effect estimates of prospectively registered and other trials were compared by the ratio of odds ratio (ROR) (ROR <1 indicates larger effects in trials not prospectively registered). Results We identified 67 meta-analyses (322 trials). Overall, 225/322 trials (70 %) were registered, 74 (33 %) prospectively and 142 (63 %) retrospectively; 88 were registered before the primary completion date and 54 after. Unregistered or retrospectively registered trials tended to show larger treatment effect estimates than prospectively registered trials (combined ROR = 0.81, 95 % CI 0.65–1.02, based on 32 contributing meta-analyses). Trials unregistered or registered after the primary completion date tended to show larger treatment effect estimates than those registered before this date (combined ROR = 0.84, 95 % CI 0.71–1.01, based on 43 contributing meta-analyses). Conclusions Lack of trial prospective registration may be associated with larger treatment effect estimates.