There has been increasing interest in the development of effective agents that can be safely used to promote anabolism in the clinical setting for patients with chronic wasting conditions as well as in the prevention and treatment of frailty associated with loss of muscle tissue in aging (sarcopenia). One such agent is the anabolic androgenic steroid (AAS) oxandrolone, which has been used in such clinical situations as HIV-related muscle wasting, severe burn injury, trauma following major surgery, neuromuscular disorders and alcoholic hepatitis for over 30 years. In the US, oxandrolone is the only AAS that is US FDA-approved for restitution of weight loss after severe trauma, major surgery or infections, malnutrition due to alcoholic cirrhosis, and Duchenne's or Becker's muscular dystrophy. Our review of the use of oxandrolone in the treatment of catabolic disorders, HIV and AIDS-related wasting, neuromuscular and other disorders provides strong evidence of its clinical efficacy. Improvements in body composition, muscle strength and function, status of underlying disease or recovery from acute catabolic injury and nutritional status are significant in the vast majority of well designed trials. However, oxandrolone has not yet been studied in other orally administered C17alpha-alkylated AASs, the novel chemical configuration of oxandrolone confers a resistance to liver metabolism as well as marked anabolic activity. In addition, oxandrolone appears not to exhibit the serious hepatotoxic effects (jaundice, cholestatic hepatitis, peliosis hepatis, hyperplasias and neoplasms) attributed to the C17alpha-alkylated AASs. Oxandrolone is reported to be generally well tolerated and the most commonly documented adverse effects are transient elevations in transaminase levels and reductions in high density lipoprotein cholesterol , optimal risk:benefit ratios for oxandrolone and other agents in its class will need to be refined before widespread clinical acceptance of AASs as a therapeutic option in sarcopenia and other chronic wasting conditions.