Cachexia is a multifactorial syndrome defined by continuous loss of skeletal muscle mass - with or without loss of fat mass - which cannot be fully reversed by conventional nutritional support and which may lead to progressive functional impairment and increased death risk. Its pathophysiology is characterized by negative protein and energy balance driven by a variable combination of reduced food intake and abnormal metabolism. Muscle wasting is encountered in virtually all chronic disease states in particular during advanced stages of the respective illness. Several pre-clinical and clinical studies are ongoing to ameliorate this clinical problem. The mechanisms of muscle wasting and cachexia in chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease are described. We discuss therapeutic targets and such potential modulators as appetite stimulants, selective androgen receptor modulators, amino acids and naturally occurring peptide hormones.