MIC-1/GDF15 is a stress response cytokine and a distant member of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFb) superfamily, with no close relatives. It acts via a recently identified receptor called glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) receptor alpha-like (GFRAL), which is a distant orphan member of the GDNF receptor family that signals through the tyrosine kinase receptor Ret. MIC-1/GDF15 expression and serum levels rise in response to many stimuli that initiate cell stress and as part of a wide variety of disease processes, most prominently cancer and cardiovascular disease. The best documented actions of MIC-1/GDF15 are on regulation of energy homeostasis. When MIC-1/GDF15 serum levels are substantially elevated in diseases like cancer, it subverts a physiological pathway of appetite regulation to induce an anorexia/cachexia syndrome initiated by its actions on hindbrain neurons. These effects make it a potential target for the treatment of both obesity and anorexia/cachexia syndromes, disorders lacking any highly effective, readily accessible therapies. MIC-1/GDF15 and its hindbrain receptor GFRAL can mediate disease-associated anorexia/cachexia syndrome and play an important role in energy homeostasis. They are also involved in the biology of inflammatory diseases and cancer. We comprehensively review the biology, disease associations, and potential diagnostic and therapeutic application of this cytokine.