Good news for lovers of hot food: Several recent studies suggest that turning up the heat in your diet might trigger all kinds of health benefits including a fired-up metabolism, protection from stomach damage and even reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Now, new findings, published in the journal BMJ, proposes spicy foods may also lower a person’s overall risk of death, the Washington Post reports.

For the study, researchers reviewed the dietary habits of more than 500,000 people from China, where spicy dishes are standard in many regional cuisines. (Think hot pepper-infused stir fries or dumplings bathed in chile oil.) Scientists gave participants questionnaires about what they ate every day and followed them for about seven years, from 2004 through 2008.

After controlling for factors such as age, gender, education level, marital status, alcohol consumption, smoking, underlying illnesses and more, researchers found that participants who ate spicy foods once or twice each week showed a 10 percent lower risk of death than those who never ate them. What’s more, those who dined on spicy fare three to seven times each week enjoyed a 14 percent lower risk of death.

Why exactly does this happen? Well, researchers suggested that capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the “hot” sensation in your mouth when eating a spicy meal, could be the key.

“The beneficial roles of capsaicin have been extensively reported in relation to anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-hypertensive effects,” researchers wrote in the BMJ report.

But as interest in this topic heats up, scientists said that to determine the exact connection between longevity and spicy foods, more research must be done.

People have relied on spices and herbs for centuries to help heal their bodies. Click here for a list of seasonings that may also help improve your health.